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No. 21 North Carolina defeats No. 9 Duke in Chapel Hill

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Joel Berry II is going to get the headlines. He finished with 21 points, six assists and four boards.

Kenny Williams might, too. He busted out of a shooting slump with 20 points and six threes, four of which came in the first six minutes. Hell, even Luke Maye managed to find a way not to get outscored by any of Duke far more talented front court pieces.

But the real reason that No. 21 North Carolina handed No. 9 Duke their second straight loss, 82-78, on Thursday night, the real reason that the Tar Heels can ahead into Saturday’s date in Raleigh against the team that isn’t an actual rival, is Cameron Johnson.

The talk heading into the first matchup between the Tobacco Road rivals is something that I’ve been mentioning since November: The roles had reversed for these two programs. More than just about any other coach in the country, Roy Williams has stayed as far away from the small-ball revolution as possible. He wants two bigs on the floor. He wants to pound the offensive glass. He wants to play high-low basketball and throw the ball into the post. He wants Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to carry him to a national title. He wants Brice Johnson to be his all-american.

This year?

He just doesn’t have the roster to do that. Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman. They all have a chance to be somewhere between good and really good in the ACC, but they’re all three- and four-star freshmen. Asking them to step in from day one and dominate just isn’t going to happen. The result is that UNC has been playing Theo Pinson and Johnson, natural threes, at their forward spot with Luke Maye, who is probably at his best as a stretch-four, as their starting center.

That is the epitome of small-ball, which has been the bread-and-butter for the Blue Devils since Coach K fully-embraced the one-and-done roster construct. This season, however, with a front line that consists of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Duke has pounded the ball into the paint more than anyone. They’re leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. They physically overpower anyone that gets in their way.

And that’s what they were planning on doing to UNC, but it didn’t work.

Johnson was the foil. The 6-foot-8 junior, a transfer from Pitt, finished with 18 points and 13 boards. He not only hit four of North Carolina’s 11 threes, effectively taking advantage of the reluctance of Duke’s bigs to step away from the rim, but he also grabbed six of their 20 offensive rebounds. Frankly, UNC won the battle in the paint. They grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and held Duke to a 31.4 offensive rebounding percentage; on the season, Duke collected more than 41 percent of their misses. They held Bagley in check — keeping him to 15 points and 16 boards is a win — and kept Carter from really having much impact on the game; he finished with just 10 points and five boards.

More importantly, they made Duke a jump-shooting team. In my mind, this is the stat that defines the game, that epitomizes North Carolina’s win and, frankly, paints a nice picture for some of the issues going on with this Duke team right now: In the final 11:35 of the game, Duke attempted just two two-point field goals and 12 three-pointers. One of those two-pointers was a jumper from Bagley. The other was a dunk from Bagley with 34 seconds left after he grabbed an offensive rebound on a possession where Duke had already missed two three-pointers.

Duke, who has now lost three of their last four games to fall four games out of first place in the ACC, is far more talented than UNC.

But North Carolina is the team that knows themselves, and even if just for a night, played in a way that proved they understand their roles and how they fit within the roster.

And that, often times, trumps raw talent.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?