Rob Dauster

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)

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

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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?

No. 25 Baylor lands a sweep of No. 13 Iowa State in overtime

Iowa State's Georges Niang, left, and Deonte Burton, right, defend as Baylor's Johnathan Motley (5) positions for a shot at the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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It took overtime, but the Bears got it done.

Led by 27 points, 10 boards and four blocks from Jonathan Motley, No. 25 Baylor completed a sweep of No. 13 Iowa State in Waco on Tuesday night, 100-91.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the Bears did it without Rico Gathers in the lineup. Baylor has been quite consistent this season. Outside of their two wins over the Cyclones, the Bears have really, really struggled against the best teams in the country. They’re 1-6 against KenPom top 40 teams not named Iowa State, and the one win came at home over a Vanderbilt that has been the nation’s biggest disappointment.

If we’re talking RPI, they’re best non-ISU win came against Texas Tech, the same Texas Tech that is currently sitting at 5-7 in the league and coming off an 18-point beatdown of the Bears in Waco on Saturday.

That matters because Baylor is fighting to get themselves a seed in the NCAA tournament that would give them a puncher’s chance to play their way out of the first weekend, and while they’ll have some chances to improve their résumé before the Big 12 tournament — at Texas, Kansas, at Oklahoma, West Virginia — would anyone be shocked to see them go 0-4 in that stretch?

And that’s assuming they find a way to get Gathers — the nation’s best rebounder who has missed two of the last four games — to remain in the lineup

That is why the Bears needed each of those 27 points from Motley. Terry Maston, a reserve big man, was the team’s second-leading scorer with 15 points, as he and Motley combined to shoot 17-for-26 from the floor. The Bears, as a team, combined for 46 points in the paint and, despite playing without Gathers, outrebounded the Cyclones and snagged 42 percent of the available offensive rebounds.

In other words, even without their best big man, Baylor pounded Iowa State in the paint.

And therein lies the biggest concern for both of these teams.

Iowa State’s best big man — Jameel McKay — was suspended for a week following issues in practice and, on Tuesday, finished with five fouls, three boards and just a single, scoreless shot from the floor. They spent much of the evening using Georges Niang as their center on the defensive end of the floor with Deonte Burton working the baseline against Baylor’s zone.

In other words, it’s becoming more and more difficult to take Iowa State seriously as a team that can contend for the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. And if Baylor’s best win this year comes against a team that is may not actually be all that good, can we really trust them?

I guess we’ll find out the next three weeks, won’t we?

 

BUBBLE BANTER: Just how costly is South Carolina’s loss to Missouri?

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, center, reacts after a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas A&M, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
(AP Photo/Sam Craft)
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This post will be updated as games come to a close.

It’s hard to fathom just how far South Carolina (KenPom: 53, RPI: 26, Bracket Matrix Seed: 7) has fallen in the last four days, both in the eyes of the general public and in bracket projections.

On Friday, the Gamecocks were sitting at 21-3, playing Kentucky with first place in the SEC and a top 25 ranking on the line. Fast forward four days and Frank Martin’s club was obliterated at home by the Wildcats — who played the last 37 minutes without head coach John Calipari — and dropped a road game to Mizzou just hours after the Tigers announced that starting point guard Wes Clark had been dismissed.

That’s bad.

Bad enough that it’s time for us to start talking about the Gamecocks as a bubble team once again.

Here’s the deal with South Carolina: Their record is still impressive (20-5) but a non-conference schedule strength that ranks in the low-300s puts that into perspective. They do have eight top 100 wins, but their best wins are at a reeling Texas A&M, against Alabama and Tulsa on a neutral court. That’s not exactly overpowering, especially when you factor in that they now have a pair of ugly league losses.

The good news for South Carolina is that the bubble is weak enough right now that it’s hard to imagine them falling beyond the 8-9 game in bracket projections. But with three games left against sub-100 competition, it would behoove the Gamecocks to snap out of this funk after two games.

WINNERS

  • Pitt (KP: 60, RPI: 41, BM: 9): Pitt didn’t lose at home against Wake Forest despite their best efforts to do so, going to double-overtime against a team that has just one win in ACC play this season. That’s relevant because Pitt really has two strengths on their profile: they won at Notre Dame and they only have one truly bad loss to their name, which came at home to N.C. State. I’m not sure the Panthers are quite as safe as their Bracket Matrix seeding would lead you to believe.
  • Butler (KP: 47, RPI: 64, BM: 12): The Bulldogs took care of business at home against Creighton, setting them up for the most important game of their season on Saturday: at trip to Philly to take on Villanova. The Bulldogs are firmly on the bubble and, with a loss on Saturday, will likely be headed straight for the cut-line. A win doesn’t lock them into an at-large by any means, but if they can avoid anything stupid the rest of the year, it would likely get them onto the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.
  • Florida (KP: 34, RPI: 32, BM: 8): The Gators added a nice, top 100 road win to their profile on Tuesday when they went into Athens and knocked off Georgia. Florida has just a pair of top 50 wins to date, but their sterling computer numbers have them comfortably in the NCAA tournament as of today.
  • VCU (KP: 39, RPI: 56, BM: 11): The Rams avoided a bad loss at home to Rhode Island on Tuesday, which would have been the kind of loss that would have put them on the wrong side of the bubble in bracket projections. VCU has a trio of tricky rivalry-ish games coming up, as they host Richmond, visit former CAA foe George Mason and then head to Foggy Bottom to take on George Washington in what could end up being a bubble elimination game. The Rams need to stockpile the wins.

LOSERS

  • Michigan (KP: 48, RPI: 51, BM: 9): The Wolverines lost at Ohio State on Tuesday night, a loss that is far from a killer for their résumé but one that certainly doesn’t help them lock up an at-large bid. The Buckeyes have an RPI in the mid-80s which, as things currently stand, makes them the worst loss that Michigan has taken this season. And while John Beilein’s club has landed some nice wins — Maryland, Purdue, Texas — that’s basically it for top 100 wins. (N.C. State is currently 98th.) They’re still in a good spot right now, but bolstering that profile would certainly be beneficial.
  • Georgia (KP: 82, RPI: 65, BM: N/A): Georgia still doesn’t have any bad losses and they still have one of the nation’s best non-conference scthedules, but with just three top 100 wins to their name, they’re currently headed for the NIT. I don’t think they can take another loss and still be tournament bound.
  • Vanderbilt (KP: 28, RPI: 54, BM: Next Four): The ‘Dores blew a 17 point lead in the final 14 minutes and lost to Mississippi State. This is just a brutal loss for a Vanderbilt team that was likely already on the wrong side of the bubble.
  • Creighton (KP: 42, RPI: 81, BM: N/A): The Bluejays lost at Butler, meaning that, if they have any real chance of getting an at-large bid, they probably need to win out and get at least one win in the Big East tournament.
  • Ole Miss (KP: 84, RPI: 85, BM: N/A): The Rebels lost at Texas A&M on Tuesday, which is the end of their at-large hopes. There just aren’t enough potential quality wins left on their schedule.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Has Buddy Hield really locked this thing up?

Hield (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) and Valentine (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Hield (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) and Valentine (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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Buddy Hield is the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award as of today, and anyone that would tell you otherwise is just making the argument for the sake of arguing.

Because there’s really no justification for anyone else being picked over him.

Why?

In bullet form:

  • A recent “slump” (he’s 14-for-37 from three in the last four games) has dropped his season-long three-point shooting to 49.8 percent; he’ll get back above 50 percent if he hits his next three. For comparison’s sake, only two players have shot better than 50 percent from two, 50 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line for a full season: Matt Kennedy of Charleston Southern (’13-’14) and Salim Stoudamire of Arizona (’04-’05). Kennedy averaged 3.2 3PAs and 8.5 FGAs that year. Stoudamire averaged 6.6 3PAs and 11.6 FGAs. Hield? He’s taking 16.1 FGAs and 8.5 3PAs.
  • Hield is averaging 4.21 threes made per game. Only three major conference players have bested that in the last 21 seasons: Michigan State’s Shawn Respert (’94-’95), Virginia’s Curtis Staples (’96-’97) and Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson (’13-’14). Respert shot 47.4 percent from three. Staples shot 39.0 percent. Henderson? 34.2 percent.
  • He’s averaging 25.6 points this season, which is second nationally and the fifth-most of any major conference player since 1994-95, behind only J.J. Redick(’05-’06), Doug McDermott (’13-’14), Michael Beasley (’07-’08) and Kevin Durant (’06-’07).
  • Hield’s also been at his best in the biggest moments. There was the 46 points in the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. There were the 21 second half points in the win at LSU. There was the comeback he led at Iowa State and against Kansas on Saturday (we’ll forget about that missed free throw for now). There was the late-game takeover and game-winning three against Texas last Monday. Big performances in big moments is the reason that the Sooners look to be headed for a No. 1 seed line on Selection Sunday.

So yes, Hield is the favorite for the award.

But I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that the race is over for two reasons:

1) Hield is the nation’s most ruthless spot-up shooter in the same way that Oklahoma has become the best three-point shooting team in the country. But jump shots can be fickle, and at the end of a long season, one where Hield is averaging 37.3 minutes in 13 games since the turn of the calendar, it’s not outlandish to think that could eventually catch up to him. It may not be a coincidence that he’s shooting “just” 37.8 percent from three the last four games, and that’s before you factor in that four of his last six games are on the road, including the long and tiring trip to Morgantown.

2) Denzel Valentine has been damn good this season as well, and if it wasn’t for an ill-timed surgical procedure on his knee, people may not have forgotten about that. Valentine missed four games with the injury, and those four games were bookended by the four or five worst — or least productive — games that Valentine has turned in this season. That’s nearly 30 percent of the regular season that was affected or wiped away by this knee procedure.

And if you want to use that as an excuse for why Valentine should be excluded from the Player of the Year race, then that’s your prerogative, even if it is somewhat silly. Because he’s still on pace to average 19.5 points, 7.7 boards and 7.1 assists, which is something that hasn’t been done since at least 1994-95. Hield’s not the only one that’s having a statistically historical season.

There’s more.

He’s played his best in Michigan State’s biggest games as well. Remember the 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists he had against Kansas in the Champions Classic? I do. I also remember that he scored 21 of those 29 points in the second half and helped erase an 11 point deficit with less than 10 minutes left. Or what about when he led Michigan State back from down 13 points against Louisville, scoring 11 of his 25 points in the final 5:06 of a game the Spartans didn’t lead until their were less than seven minutes left.

That was in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is kind of a big deal, no?

Just this past week, Valentine had 27 points, 10 assists and eight boards in a one-point overtime loss at Purdue. He had 15 of those points and seven of those assists in the second half as Sparty rallied back from an 18-point deficit. On Sunday, he went for 30 points and 13 assists in a win over Indiana that was a nationally televised game on CBS.

The point is this: in any other year, Denzel Valentine would be the favorite to win National Player of the Year, injury or no injury. He’s still got some ground to make up, but acting like he’s out of the race already is premature.

Anyway, here is the rest of the top ten: