Rob Dauster

Xavier's Myles Davis (15) drives against Providence's Kris Dunn (3) and Kris Dunn, second from left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Cincinnati. Xavier won 85-74. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Myles Davis’ triple-double leads No. 8 Xavier past slumping No. 23 Providence

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Trevon Blueitt scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half as Myles Davis added 11 points, 12 boards and 12 assists — his first career triple-double — as No. 8 Xavier knocked off No. 23 Providence, 85-74, in a game that was never really in doubt.

This was the kind of performance we’ve come to expect out of Xavier. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is one of the deepest, most complete and most balanced teams in college basketball. They’re every bit the part of a Final Four contender.

No, the story of this game was Providence.

Specifically, the effort the Friars gave on the defensive end of the floor.

To date, that’s where this team has excelled. We know all about their limitations offensively at this point. They’re a two-man team. It’s Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil … and everyone else. When ‘everyone else’ shows up to play — when Rodney Bullock is a double-double threat that is hitting jumpers, when Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba are creating off the bounce, when the supporting cast is hitting their threes — the Friars can legitimately beat anyone in the country.

They beat Arizona in a game played in southern California. They beat Villanova at Villanova. Those are really, really good wins.

But that hasn’t been the case of late. By the time Providence next takes the court, it will have been a month since the Friars beat someone not named Georgetown. They’ve lost five of their last seven games and suddenly find themselves inching their way closer and closer to the bubble.

And the concern on Wednesday is that they got worked over this badly on a night where they hit 12 threes. That’s what happens when you give up 52 first half points and allow a team to hit seven threes in twenty minutes. That’s what happens when a defense that ranked among the top 25 in the country decides not to show up until after the intermission.

I still think that Providence is a dangerous team as long as they have Dunn and Bentil, but the best way to describe what this team is at the moment is “unraveling”.

BUBBLE BANTER: Saint Joseph’s, Texas Tech land a critical résumé win

Members of the Temple basketball team react during the final seconds of their 55-53 victory over Connecticut in an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)
(AP Photo/Fred Beckham)
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Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 38, RPI: 30, Bracket Matrix Seed: 9) may have just played their way into the NCAA tournament with a home win over Dayton on Wednesday night.

The Hawks have a weird profile. Their computer numbers are really strong despite the fact that they haven’t really played many opponents of note. They entered the night having played just seven top 100 opponents this season, posting a 3-4 record in those games. Their worst loss? VCU. That’s good. Their best win, however, was Princeton, an Ivy League program that needs a win on Friday night just to play their way into a tie for first place in that conference.

That’s what makes a win over Dayton so valuable.

The Flyers are currently 11th in the RPI.

This is an elite win, the kind of win that St. Joe’s can hang their résumé on and the kind of win that they had been missing this season.

This doesn’t mean that they’re a lock by any means, but it does put Phil Martelli’s team in a position where they are probably in the tournament with room to spare as of today. There are still some landmines left on their schedule, but as long as this team doesn’t do anything stupid down the stretch — like losing to UMass or Saint Louis — they’ll be OK.

WINNERS

  • Texas Tech (KenPom: 41, RPI: 31, BM: 10): Tech landed another critical win on Wednesday, beating Oklahoma in Lubbock. They’ve now won three straight — Iowa State, at Baylor, Oklahoma — and have a total of five top 50 wins on their profile. Throw in that just two of their nine losses have come against teams ranked outside the top 50, and Tubby Smith’s squad is probably in the 8-9 game as of today.
  • Alabama (KenPom: 73, RPI: 34, BM: First Four): The Bracket Matrix has this wrong. Alabama was in with room to spare before they went into Baton Rouge and knocked off LSU on Wednesday. The Crimson Tide have some truly impressive win this season — at Florida, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, South Carolina — and just one bad loss to their name. Perhaps more impressive is that Bama has now won five straight games.
  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 37, RPI: 49, BM: 10): The Pirates picked up a nice win over Georgetown on Wednesday, a win they really needed given the lack of an elite win on their profile. SHU has won at Providence (who hasn’t?) and they have seven top 100 wins now, but the best part of their résumé is probably that the Pirates don’t have a bad loss yet.
  • George Washington (KenPom: 91, RPI: 51, BM: Next Four): The Colonials could not afford a loss to anyone at this point, and they managed to come from 13 points down to win on the road.
  • Clemson (KenPom: 50, RPI: 87, BM: N/A): The Tigers didn’t lose to Boston College. That’s a win because the other option would have been a killer.

LOSERS

  • Temple (KenPom: 86, RPI: 66, BM: 11): The Owls lost at home to No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday night, which will sting. That was a chance to really solidify their NCAA tournament hopes and do so against an intracity rival. The bigger issue was that this was the last chance for the Owls to really land a win that would drastically improve their profile. Temple is headed for the cut-line whether they like it or not.
  • St. Bonaventure (KenPom: 65, RPI: 33, BM: Next Four): It’s hard to overstate just how bad Wednesday night’s loss at La Salle is for the Bonnies’ résumé. La Salle is 243rd in the RPI. It would not be so bad if St. Bonaventure had more than just a single top 50 win this season. That’s going to be really difficult to overcome.
  • LSU (KenPom: 55, RPI: 71, BM: First Four): Want to know how crazy this season is? The Tigers lost to Alabama at home tonight, and it’s not even going to be considered a bad loss. This makes LSU’s margin of error that much slimmer, but they should still be on the right side of the bubble.
  • Florida State (KenPom: 42, RPI: 48, BM: 11): The Seminoles lost at home to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, which isn’t exactly and awful loss but given FSU’s lack of quality wins, this was not exactly a loss they could afford. Their bid is going to be determined by their last three games: at Duke, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
  • Syracuse (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37, BM: 8): The Orange got worked over pretty badly by a Louisville team looking to make a statement after losing two in a row last week. They can survive that. Their six top 50 wins and 7-8 record against the top 100 speaks for itself.
  • Colorado (KenPom: 63, RPI: 28, BM: 8): Losing at USC isn’t going to ruin Colorado’s profile, but Tad Boyle’s club is going to regret blowing a 15 point lead on the road.
  • No. 23 Providence (KenPom: 56, RPI: 31, BM: 7): The Friars aren’t quite in danger yet, but they’ve lost five of their last seven games and head on the road to a sneaky-good Seton Hall team next. They’re reeling. How long will it last?

 

No. 4 Iowa loses at Penn State; how worried should fans be?

Penn State forward Donovan Jack (5) drives to the basket as Iowa forward Nicholas Baer (51) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)
(AP Photo/Chris Knight)
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Shep Garner scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half and Donovan Jack came off the bench to score 19 points as Penn State shocked No. 4 Iowa State in Happy Valley on Wednesday night, 79-75.

The Nittany Lions also picked off then-No. 22 Indiana at home last week. Combined, those two wins make up exactly half of Penn State’s win total in the Big Ten and sandwiched a 16-point loss to Nebraska. A week before Penn State beat Indiana, they lost at Iowa.

By 24 points.

So this isn’t exactly a good loss for the Hawkeyes, and while it’s not the kind of loss that will be a killer for the NCAA tournament profile, it is another worrisome sign about the trajectory of this Iowa team. Prior to this loss at Penn State, Iowa struggled at home to beat a Minnesota team that has yet to win a Big Ten game this season. Before that, the Hawkeyes lost on the road to Indiana.

Generally speaking, this is not the kind of thing that should worry a team or a fan base, but you’ll forgive the Hawkeye faithful if these last seven days have them concerned. They’ve heard this story before. This is what Iowa does. They string together just enough good performances to make you believe that this will be the year and then find a way to give it all back.

(I know far too well what they’re going through. Google ‘Spursy’.)

The loss at Iowa State is precisely what I’m talking about. The Hawkeyes got 30 first half points but Jarrod Uthoff but watch a 20-point second half lead vanish as the Cyclones beat their in-state rival.

And here’s the thing: Iowa’s remaining schedule isn’t quite as easy as we thought it would be a month ago. They get Wisconsin, the hottest team in the league, and Indiana at home while paying a visit to Ohio State and Michigan, who could very well have Caris LeVert back and be playing for their at-large bid in that game.

Iowa currently sits all alone in first place in the Big Ten, but they’re in a three-way tie with Indiana and Maryland in the loss column. They’re still looking at a two-seed in the NCAA tournament as of today and have an all-american in Uthoff leading the charge.

But I promise you: Iowa fans are starting to get just a little bit nervous, and I can’t blame them.

If the NCAA had the NBA’s Trade Deadline, what deals would get made?

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) defends as SMU guard Nic Moore (11) leaps to the basket for a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Dallas. SMU won 80-68.  (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With the NBA Trade Deadline looming this week, we took a look at six trades that could be made to benefit some of college basketball’s contenders this season. The only real stipulation was that the trade has to be a deal that both sides would be willing to make. Trading Ben Simmons to Oklahoma a couple of walk-ons would be fun in theory but it’s not something LSU would consider under any circumstance.

Tell us what trades you would propose in the comments.

NORTH CAROLINA GETS: Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy
SMU GETS: Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams

What fun is it to make up hypothetical trades if you aren’t going to make major moves?

This move is beneficial for both teams, but let’s start with the Tar Heels. It’s national title or bust for North Carolina this season so I’m dreaming big for them. With the addition of Nic Moore, it creates a Moore-Marcus Paige backcourt that improves North Carolina’s perimeter shooting and makes them that much tougher to defend. It also gives Paige the all-ACC caliber point guard we’ve been waiting for Roy Williams to bring in for two years. Markus Kennedy also provides insurance for Kennedy Meeks inside — he may actually be better than Meeks — and gives the Tar Heels four really good big men to use in case of foul problems.

For SMU, they’re lacking scholarship players and young talent for the future, so Joel Berry is a solid replacement for Nic Moore in the short term and the move also gives them two more years of eligibility at point guard. Luke Maye and Kenny Williams are both freshmen with time to mature and grow into rotation players. Isaiah Hicks gives SMU a talented replacement for Markus Kennedy who still has another year of eligibility remaining. He can anchor SMU’s front line next season, when they’ll actually have a shot at the NCAA tournament.

PROVIDENCE GETS: Damion Lee
LOUISVILLE GETS: Two Providence scholarships and future recruiting hours

This is Ed Cooley’s best chance to make a run at a Final Four since he’s been at Providence, and unless another Kris Dunn comes along sometimes soon, it may be the best chance he ever has with the Friars. The problem? Providence doesn’t have enough consistent shooting or scoring in their supporting cast outside of Ben Bentil. If Lee has proven anything during his time in college, it’s that the man can get buckets.

And at Louisville, the buckets that he is currently getting don’t really matter. In his one and only season with the Cardinals he won’t be playing in any postseason, the result of a self-imposed postseason ban that, in all likelihood, will also mean that the Cardinals are probably going to be hurting for scholarships in the near future. Since this hypothetical includes trades, we’re just going to pretend that the NCAA wouldn’t veto that.

IOWA STATE GETS: Jordan Tolbert
SMU GETS: One SMU scholarship

Thanks to Keith Frazier, SMU is going to need all the extra scholarships they can get in the future — especially with the four players they’ve getting from that UNC deal — and with no real reason to keep a senior like Jordan Tolbert around, why not shuffle him off to an Iowa State team in desperate need of interior depth?

KENTUCKY GETS: Devin Thomas
WAKE FOREST GETS: Charles Matthews

Wake Forest has been a massive disappointment this season, as they currently sit at 1-13 in the ACC with barely a prayer of making a run through the conference tournament to earn that automatic bid.

In other words, Thomas is basically playing out his senior season with nothing more on the line than how high he’ll climb in the Wake Forest record books. He’s an excellent low-post scorer, however, and a guy with a motor that will get to the glass at both ends of the floor. That’s exactly the kind of player that Kentucky is missing this season, and with a surplus of wing players — and a recruiting class that includes two future lottery picks — they can afford to offload a four-star freshman in Charles Matthews.

Matthews, it could be noted, will team with Bryant Crawford to give Danny Manning a young, talented and promising back court aimed at the future.

Wyoming's Josh Adams (AP Photo/The Coloradoan, Erin Hull)
Wyoming’s Josh Adams (AP Photo/The Coloradoan, Erin Hull)

FLORIDA GETS: Josh Adams
WYOMING GETS: Brandone Francis-Ramirez

Florida is one of the nation’s best defensive teams this season, but where they really, really struggle is offensively. Kasey Hill has never proven to be much of an offensive weapon. Chris Chiozza has never been known as an explosive offensive weapon, and while freshman KeVaughn Allen has had some big games this year, he’s also been far too inconsistent to rely on.

Enter senior Josh Adams, who is currently averaging 23.7 points and 4.1 assists for a bad Wyoming team. He’ll give Mike White’s ball-club an instant injection of offensive firepower, and given his athleticism, he’ll be a terrific fit in the pressing defensive system that White employs. Brandone Francis-Ramirez is a former four-star recruit, but the redshirt freshman seems a bit out of his element in the SEC, meaning that Wyoming should be able to get three-plus years out of a kid that would have the potential to be an all-MWC player down the road.

ARIZONA GETS: Malcolm Hill
ILLINOIS GETS: Justin Simon and Chance Comanche

Where Arizona is struggling this season is on the defensive end of the floor, but there isn’t a piece that the Wildcats would be able to get that could make them the kind of team we’re used to see out of Sean Miller.

So go all-in offensively. Become impossible to guard, and landing Hill — who’s averaging 18.9 points for the Illini despite facing nightly double-teams — would help them do that. Hill is a wing forward who would slot in quite nicely at the three alongside Ryan Anderson and some combination of Kadeem Allen, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier and Gabe York. Mark Tollefsen hasn’t been bad this year, but Arizona would be replacing an all-WCC forward with an all-Big Ten forward. That’s a major upgrade.

Simon was rated as a five-star recruit coming out of high school, but he’s been unable to break into Sean Miller’s rotation. With Allen, Trier and Jackson-Cartwright all expected to return and a recruiting class that, for now, includes another five-star point guard (Kobi Simmons) and could add at least one more star perimeter prospect (Josh Jackson or Rawle Alkins), Simon is expendable. So is Comanche, who likely will end up on the bench again next season with Dusan Ristic returning and Lauri Markkanen entering the program. John Groce, who is currently on the hotseat, could really use that infusion of young talent.

VIDEO: Duke fans epic troll of North Carolina fans

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I believe this falls under the umbrella of “#gotem”.

Oh, go read our Duke-North Carolina preview. It explains why Duke has gotten better defensively.

FILM SESSION: Duke’s defensive tweak and what it means as they take on North Carolina

Duke guard Brandon Ingram (14) shoots the ball over the reach of Boston College forward A.J. Turner (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Boston. Duke beat Boston College 81-64. (AP Photo/Gretchen Ertl)
(AP Photo/Gretchen Ertl)
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The outlook of Duke’s season is significantly different today than it was three weeks ago.

That’s when the Blue Devils went down to Coral Gables and got dissected by Miami, losing 80-69 in a game where they gave up 1.27 points-per-possession (PPP) to a good, not great, offensive team. The Blue Devils had lost four of their last five games at that point, and they were a mess defensively. Amile Jefferson’s injury had sapped them of any interior depth they had, which forced them into playing Brandon Ingram exclusively at the four, and the coaching staff was still trying to figure out how to deal with that.

Playing their trademark, half court man-to-man defense created too many mismatches and resulted in too much foul trouble for a team that couldn’t afford to have any of their key players — they essentially use a six-man rotation with freshman Chase Jeter spelling Marshall Plumlee at times — sitting on the bench. The Blue Devils tried different variations of zone, but that has been an outright disaster; according to Synergy, Duke’s giving up 0.972 PPP when they play zone, which is in the 25th percentile nationally.

Over the course of the last two weeks, however, Duke has started to make some strides on that end of the floor, and it stems from a subtle tweak that they’ve made in their defensive philosophy: They’re not switching anymore.

Typically, in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s half court man-to-man defense, the Blue Devils switch whenever possible. Sometimes it’s just like-to-like screens — when a guard screens a guard or a big screens a big — but generally speaking, they’ve switched all exchanges 1-through-4; from the point guard to the power forward, if two players screen for each other, run by each other or even just switch sides of the floor, Duke will switch. The theory behind this is that, while it creates mismatches at different spots on the floor, it also makes it a nightmare for the offense to run their sets and initiate actions where they want to on the floor.

This was quite prevalent the last two games, and it worked. Last Monday, Louisville scored just 24 points in the first half and Duke, in total, gave up less than 1.000 PPP, the first time they’ve done that against tournament-caliber opponent since they lost to Utah on Dec. 19th. They followed that up by holding Virginia — who, believe it or not, is the nation’s 12th best offensive team, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric — to 1.052 PPP, which is nearly a 0.1 PPP off their season average.

That doesn’t sound like much, but in a 65 possession game, that’s a 6.5 point difference. It’s probably worth noting here that Duke is a 6.5-point underdog tonight against North Carolina.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

In this first example, Duke is trying to switch on a double ball-screen set by Indiana’s three and four, but for some reason three Blue Devils end up chasing the ball. The resulting confusion results in Marshall Plumlee trying to guard Troy Williams one-on-one.

Layup:

Here, you’ll see Ingram switch onto Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson when Jackson, after making the pass to initiate offense, runs off of a flare screen. After Jackson receives the ball on the opposite side of the court, Ingram is too slow in trying to ice a side ball-screen — “icing” a screen means the defender guarding the ball doesn’t allow the ball-handler to go over the screen, keeping the ball pinned on the sideline — which allows Jackson to get into the teeth of the defense.

After some horrid help defense … layup:

Now watch this possession from the win over Virginia. Not only does Duke not switch a single screen or exchange, but Plumlee camps out in the lane much the way that he would if he was the middle of a 2-3 zone:

The other major difference during this four-game winning streak is that the Blue Devils are actually starting to get on the glass a little bit.

On the season, Duke is 279th in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing opponents to grab 32.3 percent of their available offensive rebounds. In ACC play, that number is 33.6 percent, with the problem coming to a head against Syracuse, when the Orange grabbed an insane 26 offensive rebounds. But again, the last four games — and particularly the last two — have been a different story. Duke is getting more than 70 percent of the available defensive rebounds — which would be fourth in the ACC at this moment — despite three of the four opponent during that streak sitting in the top six in offensive rebounding in the league.

Against Louisville and Virginia last week?

Duke allowed a total of just 15 offensive boards.

Now, part of this is due to their scheme. When you’re playing a straight man-to-man, it’s a lot easier to protect the defensive glass. In zone, it’s difficult to find someone to box out. In a switching man-to-man, mismatches abound; bigs have to try and box out quicker guards on the perimeter while Duke’s little guys are forced to try and keep some of the ACC’s best big men from getting to the glass.

In a straight man-to-man? It’s all about effort, pride and understanding the angles. Can I keep my man from beating me one-on-one to the loose ball? Do I know where the ball is going to bounce off the rim? There’s a reason, when you talk to scouts at any level, you’ll hear them say, “rebounding translates.”

It’s a skill, one that North Carolina has in abundance.

This is where Wednesday night’s game will be won: on the glass.

More specifically: Will Brandon Ingram be able to hold his own on the glass against North Carolina’s NBA-caliber front line?

Ingram is the ultimate matchup problem. At 6-foot-9, Ingram is a natural small forward, with a sweet shooting stroke, a smooth mid-range game and enough handle to both initiate offense and beat a slower defender off the dribble. He gets the opportunity to do the latter quite often for Duke, as he spends all of his time playing the power forward spot in the same way that Justise Winslow did last season and Jabari Parker did before him.

The problem is that where Winslow was an elite defender, Ingram is more like Parker when it comes to being a defensive stopper, particularly in the post. He’s thinner than Taylor Swift and, for much of the season, was probably just as physical as her in the paint. Can he keep Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks off the offensive glass? Can he handle Kennedy Meeks or Joel James in the post?

And in the end, I think that’s what this game is going to come down to.

Who forces whom to make a change?

Against Virginia, after digging themselves an 11 point first half hole, Duke for Virginia to go small when Ingram made seven straight shots and scored 18 consecutive Duke points while Virginia’s bigs were trying to guard him. Tony Bennett was forced to put Malcolm Brogdon on Ingram and play a four-guard lineup, which took away from what UVA likes to do offensively.

Can Ingram do the same against North Carolina?

Or will the Tar Heels simply be able to overpower him inside?