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Trevon Duval answered Duke’s point guard conundrum at the Champions Classic

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CHICAGO — Trevon Duval was easily the biggest question mark among Duke’s five-star freshmen entering the 2017-18 season.

Could Duval effectively run an offense? Would Duval’s lack of a consistent jumper hurt a Blue Devil team that badly needed floor spacing? Was Duval’s style of play too wild for Coach K?

Duval passed his first real test with flying colors against Michigan State on Tuesday night as he was all over the floor, getting in passing lanes and soaring for above-the-rim finishes.

It was only a small part of an eye-opening performance for Duval at the Champions Classic as his 17 points, 10 assists, six steals and three rebounds were a huge part of No. 1 Duke’s 88-81 win over the No. 2 Spartans. Playing 37 minutes, and only turning the ball over three times, Duval was the steady presence with the ball that the Blue Devils needed in an early-season game of this magnitude.

In a game featuring the top two teams in the country, Duval was the second best player on the floor. And for a program that has struggled to find a consistent option at point guard the past few seasons, Duval looked like the floor leader that the Blue Devils have sorely lacked.

While much of the national recognition was justifiably geared towards teammate Grayson Allen’s red-hot shooting and Marvin Bagley III’s poked right eye, Duval was a menace on both ends of the floor. Whether it was playing in constant attack mode with the ball in his hands on offense or deflecting a high number of passes at the top of Duke’s surprisingly active 2-3 zone on defense, Duval’s imprint was all over Tuesday’s game.

“It was crazy. It was exciting; really exciting,” Duval said to NBCSports.com. “I was a little bit nervous. But after I started to get rolling a little bit it was just regular basketball.

“I usually get butterflies before every game but I got a little bit more butterflies before this game. But it was more of an anxious type of butterfly. I was ready to go and ready to play and ready to win.”

The metamorphosis of Duval emerging into a potential two-way force is a vital part of Duke’s national championship aspirations. Already the No. 1 team in the nation with a potential ceiling that is unrivaled in college basketball this season, the Blue Devils needed Duval to step up in a big way against Michigan State with Bagley only playing 10 minutes and fellow freshman Gary Trent Jr. struggling with a 3-for-14 shooting night.

It was expected that a player known from his high school mixtapes as “Tricky Tre” could make things happen off the dribble on the offensive end. Duval’s constant activity on defense is something that surprised a lot of people.

“I don’t really know what people really said [about me in the preseason] but I think I play defense a lot better [than people think],” Duval said. “Now that I’m in college I feel as though I gotta cut the head off the opposing team. And that’s the point guard. So, whenever I do that, it makes it harder for the other team to run their stuff.”

Duke’s 2-3 zone has been an interesting subplot at the start of the regular season as head coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t relied this much on that type of defensive look in recent years. Duval’s 6-foot-9 wingspan and activity in passing lanes could mean that the Blue Devils rely more on the zone than previously believed. The 2-3 zone definitely helps Duke’s lack of consistent depth off the bench. Duval’s pressure also turned a potentially passive look into a turnover-producing force.  Michigan State had serious trouble working the ball into the middle of Duke’s 2-3 zone as Duval applied a lot of ball pressure.

“2-3 is something that we really didn’t play in the first couple games. But in practice, we really go through it so we can run it against certain teams,” Duval said. “We’re really comfortable with it and we know we have really long arms throughout the whole team. So I feel as though we’re comfortable playing that 2-3.”

For as good as Duval was at the Champions Classic, his jumper is still very much a work-in-progress. Finishing 7-for-20 from the field, and going 0-for-4 from three-point range, Duval has to knock down some looks outside of the paint if he wants to keep opposing defenses honest as the season progresses. But also credit Duval with understanding that Allen had the hot hand and that he could play off of the senior’s dominant performance. Still one of the toughest covers in college hoops off of ball-screen scenarios, Duval found a comfort level attacking the basket with downhill drives once Bagley was out and Allen started to get rolling.

“I tried to find Grayson and Gary and the big guys. Try to get them involved, try to get them going. Definitely Grayson when he started to get hot. Tried to find him as much as possible,” Duval said.

“As soon as Grayson started to get hot I had to tell everybody, ‘Find Grayson, he’s gonna knock it down no matter what.’ Once he gets like that, he’s unstoppable.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Duval’s aggressiveness hunting his own offense changes once Bagley returns to the lineup. It didn’t seem like Duval was fully comfortable in the Duke offense until Bagley went down midway through the first half and Duke had to make adjustments. Bagley is going to command a lot of touches on offense and Duval is still developing a chemistry with the Blue Devils’ late-summer addition.

But Tuesday also gave us a glimpse of what Duval can bring on both ends of the floor when he’s confident and rolling. Duke’s ceiling remains completely terrifying if Duval can continue to play like this. In a star-studded Champions Classic that was filled with freshmen talent, Duval was arguably the best among his classmates when it came to making winning plays.

Rutgers lands upset win over No. 15 Seton Hall

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Corey Sanders scored 22 points and Deshawn Freeman added 12 points and 16 boards as Rutgers landed the biggest win of the Steve Pikiell era to date, erasing a 13-point deficit to knock off in-state rival No. 15 Seton Hall, 71-65.

The Scarlet Knights finished the game on a 17-2 run over the final six minutes of the game, answering a 9-0 Seton Hall run that put the Pirates up 63-54. Rutgers did not lead until a free throw from Sanders with 2:22 left put them up 64-63.

The win was the first for Rutgers over Seton Hall in four tries, roughly the time frame that the Pirates have been relevant nationally, and it is precisely what Pikiell needed to continue building a program in Piscataway. Rutgers is now 10-3 on the season, but their three losses have all come to teams are in – or getting votes in – the top 25: Florida State, at Minnesota and Michigan State. As the saying goes, it isn’t really a rivalry until both teams have a chance to win the game, and this win proves just that.

But that’s not the only reason to be bullish on this program. Rutgers is also starting to recruit a little bit better. They sold out the RAC for this game.

He still has a long way to go, and building something out of nothing in the Big Ten is never going to be simple, but Pikiell has this thing going in the right direction.

As far as the Pirates are concerned, there is some reason to be worried here. A team with this kind of veteran presence should not be getting rattled and blowing leads down the stretch. Khadeen Carrington, who is making the adjustment to playing the point this season, was 4-for-17 from the floor with five turnovers, and he struggled to make plays when Seton Hall needed them in the final minutes. Angel Delgado finished just 3-for-9 from the floor.

I’m not sure this is the kind of situation where you need to be worried about their long-term prospects, but it is something to monitor.

No. 17 Purdue takes down Butler in Crossroads Classic

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The annual Crossroads Classic opened with No. 17 Purdue running past Butler for a solid 82-67 win on Saturday afternoon. The Boilermakers continued a recent strong stretch of play with another road or neutral win against a power-conference opponent.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Purdue is the second best team in the Big Ten (and the gap might be growing).

The Big Ten is a mess so far. Only Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are 2-0 in league play. The Buckeyes aren’t expected to maintain their surprising hot start. Obviously, others in the Big Ten like Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern could all be dangerous. But those four teams have also been underwhelming and have a lot of glaring holes.

For the current moment, Purdue (11-2) clearly looks like the second best team in the Big Ten. And the gap seems to be getting wider during a seven-game winning streak. Outside of a weird two-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Boilermakers have put together a solid stretch that now includes road or neutral wins over Arizona, Maryland and Butler in the last few weeks.

Purdue has experience, unique size with 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, and capable perimeter shooters who can space the floor. The Boilermakers have good defenders at multiple positions. They outplayed Butler in nearly every facet of the game during a solid win on Saturday. Carsen Edwards (18 points) has matured as a solid leading scorer and plenty of players around him are double-figure scorers.

Butler isn’t likely to be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team, but they’re a solid postseason-caliber group that the Boilermakers made look silly for much of the game. Purdue knows itself. The Boilermakers know their personnel and they’re a veteran group. There’s a lot to like about Purdue at this point in the season.

2. Butler struggles mightily against length

Butler’s offense couldn’t get much of anything going on Saturday. The Bulldogs were ice-cold from the perimeter (7-for-22 from three-point range) and they didn’t fare much better when they tried to go inside (26-for-69).

The Bulldogs haven’t been a very good perimeter team in general this season — entering Saturday’s game with only 31 percent three-point shooting — and those problems were very apparent against Purdue. Without an ability to space the floor, attackers like Kelan Martin (15 points) and Kamar Baldwin (13 points) struggled to get anything going with the drive as the Boilermakers had a great defensive game plan to limit Butler’s looks. Senior big man Tyler Wideman (seven points) also had a hard time finishing over the length of players like Haas and Haarms at the rim.

Paul Jorgenson (15 points) had a big second half and he has been solid at times this season as a floor-spacing threat. The Bulldogs need more help for him on the outside. Sean McDermott has been labeled as a perimeter specialist, but he’s also returning from a recent injury and the Bulldogs are slowly bringing him back.

Butler’s offense is at its best when they can rely on Martin and Baldwin to attack. That wasn’t even close to the case on Saturday as both struggled to get going. It meant Butler didn’t stand much of a chance.

3. Purdue has some late-game turnover issues

Purdue has been generally solid with closing out games this season but they weren’t able to do so against Butler on Saturday.

It looked like the Boilermakers were going to cruise to an easy win before turnovers became an issue and Butler crept back in this one. While Purdue maintained most of its defensive intensity, its offense took a foot off the gas as Butler’s aggressiveness defending on the perimeter led to 18 Boilermaker turnovers.

Purdue is great at closing out games from the free-throw line if they need to. But their ball handlers need to limit turnovers and continue to run good offense if they build up a lead.

Purdue had trouble at times defending late leads last season. They’re now 10-0 this season when they have a halftime lead. Could this be an issue that comes back once again? It doesn’t seem likely but the second half on Saturday brought some ugly flashbacks.

VIDEO: Miami’s Lonnie Walker skies for ridiculous putback dunk

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Miami freshman guard Lonnie Walker timed this one perfectly.

The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American came from across the floor to hammer home a left-handed putback on Saturday as Walker showed why many consider him to be a potential one-and-done prospect.

After a career-high 26 points in a win over Boston on Tuesday, it appears that Walker might be gaining confidence as ACC season approaches.

VIDEO: Memphis’ Jimario Rivers catches lob on Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud

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Memphis senior forward Jimario Rivers caught a tough one-handed alley-oop on Saturday as Louisville senior big man Anas Mahmoud found himself on the receiving end.

This is one of the better lobs we’ve seen this season. Rivers got way up there for this one.

Northern Colorado basketball placed on probation by NCAA

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA placed the University of Northern Colorado men’s basketball program on three years’ probation among other sanctions Friday after finding academic fraud and recruiting violations by ex-coach B.J. Hill and some of his assistants.

The violations by Hill and eight members of his staff over a four-year span included completing coursework for prospects, paying for classes prospects needed to become academically eligible and arranging off-campus practice sessions with an academically ineligible student-athlete.

In addition to probation, penalties in the case include a one-year postseason ban (already served) for the men’s basketball team; a financial penalty; scholarship and recruiting restrictions; and a vacation of records.

Seven coaches received “show cause” orders, including a six-year penalty for the head coach, five years for two assistant coaches, four years for another assistant coach and three years for two assistant coaches and the graduate assistant. During the show cause periods, if an NCAA school hires the coach, that school must demonstrate why restrictions on the coach’s athletically related duties should not apply.

The NCAA concurred with the university’s self-imposed one-year postseason ban last season, a reduction of three scholarships and recruiting restrictions. Also, the school must return all proceeds from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance.

The rules violations spanned four years under Hill, a first-time head coach who personally completed coursework for a prospect and enlisted an athletic director to do the same, the NCAA found.

The NCAA said Hill recruited ineligible players, then broke rules to get them on the court.

Hill was fired last year when the NCAA began looking into the violations. He had gone 86-98 with two postseason appearances in six seasons after taking over the program in 2010 following a stint as an assistant in Greeley to current Colorado coach Tad Boyle.

The NCAA commended the university for its “exemplary cooperation” in the case and said Hill “admitted that he failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff.”

The panel said two assistant coaches violated ethical conduct rules for lying to investigators and a third failed to cooperate with the probe.