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Five things we learned this week: The Kansas zone, Luke Kennard and what’s up with the Pac-12?

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1. So how much zone is Bill Self going to play moving forward?: In a year where Bill Self, who has been as wed to two-big lineups as Gregg Popovich, has fully embraced the idea of playing small-ball, the Kansas head coach faces another important decision regarding his team: Just how much zone should they play?

I ask because Self, who loves playing man-to-man more than I love New Haven-style apizza, went into Rupp Arena on Saturday night and knocked off No. 4 Kentucky thanks to the ability of his team to flip-flop between 2-3 zone and a triangle-and-two defenses. Using junk defenses like this isn’t necessarily new for Self – he loves tossing out wrinkles like that – but it’s usually his last-gasp effort to slow an opponent down.

After the win, the question needs to be asked: Should Kansas go zone full-time?

On the one hand, that defense really does have some benefits for the Jayhawks. It saves the legs of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, as they play close to 40 minutes in big games, and it protects Landen Lucas, who can focus on walling-up at the rim and rebounding in his area instead of having to risk fouls battling for position in the post and trying to defend 1-on-1 on the block; with Udoka Azubuike out, Lucas is really the only big man at Self’s disposal.

It’s also worth noting that, on paper, this is a team with a roster that should work well in a zone. Mason and Graham aren’t going to give up much penetration, and the wings – two of Josh Jackson, LeGerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk – have the length and athleticism to run at perimeter shooters and challenge shots when skip passes are thrown.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that this Kentucky team is not really built to play against a zone. We know how much trouble they have shooting the ball from the perimeter already, which isn’t exactly ideal against a zone, and their front court players aren’t known for their ability to pass the ball. Maybe it was less about the Kansas zone itself and more the result of a team that doesn’t have the pieces to break it down.

Whatever the truth may be, this is something to track moving forward.

2. It’s time to turn this thing over to Luke Kennard: The Luke Kennard conundrum has been solved.

After seeing what the sophomore guard did to Wake Forest in the second half on Saturday – 30 points, 10-for-10 shooting from the floor, a game-winning three – I think it’s time for the Blue Devils to embrace the obvious: Luke Kennard is the best player on their team even if he isn’t the best NBA prospect, and Duke will be at their best if they go ride or die with him leading the way.

Watch the performance here:

The big thing to take away from this isn’t just that Kennard went bonkers shooting the ball – that’s obvious – it’s how well he got others involved and how effective he was not only in isolation but in ball-screen actions. He had four assists, but not shown are the open shots he created that were missed or the hockey assists that he had, where his penetration moved the defense and the basket was scored after an extra pass was made.

Duke doesn’t need a point guard.

They need to understand that Kennard is the guy that can get them where they want to go.

3. Shout out to Josh Pastner: Think about this for a second: Memphis paid Josh Pastner to leave.

That’s how bad things got for him in Memphis. The university paid him to take another job.

That other job ended up being Georgia Tech, where Pastner took over for Brian Gregory and has proceeded to put together a team that looks like it will be in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday. Seriously. The Yellow Jackets don’t have a perfect résumé by any stretch of the imagination, but after this last week, where they blew out Florida State and beat Notre Dame, they have wins over three of the best teams in the ACC, including North Carolina.

Arizona coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call during the first half of Arizona's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Arizona coach Sean Miller (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

4. Arizona is the best team in the Pac-12. Again: In the preseason, we thought that Oregon was the best team in the conference. After UCLA took the nation by storm over the course of the first two months of the season while Oregon struggled with Dillon Brooks’ returning from injury, the Bruins looked like shoe-ins to be the Pac-12 champs. Then UCLA forget how to defend and Brooks turned back into an all-american, meaning that the Ducks were, again, the favorites in the league.

All the while, Arizona was quietly winning, and winning, and winning. They put us on notice last weekend, when Allonzo Trier returned from his absence and they went into Pauley Pavilion and roughed up UCLA, but we got a firm answer regarding the Pac-12 hierarchy this weekend. With Oregon taking a loss at Colorado, who was 0-7 in the Pac-12 entering last week, it looks as if Sean Miller has himself yet another Pac-12 title favorite.

5. Just how good is the Big 12?: We know how good Kansas is. Baylor still has some doubters, but their 20-1 record, and the teams they’ve beaten to get there, speak for themselves. West Virginia has beaten those two teams by a combined 37 points.

So it’s probably safe to assume that all three of those teams are good.

What about the rest of the league? Well, it didn’t fare well in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Kansas State, who has looked like an NCAA tournament team this season, lost by 12 at Tennessee. Iowa State, who some thought would be the fourth-best team in the conference, lost at Vanderbilt. TCU, who is in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid, lost at home to Auburn. Oklahoma, who won at West Virginia, lost by 32 points at home to Florida.

The best win for the Big 12 outside the top three in the league? Oklahoma State, who is 2-6 in the conference whipping Arkansas. Those could end up being costly losses.

VIDEO: Watch Luke Kennard’s 30-point second half vs. Wake Forest

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What Kennard did down the stretch here should not be overlooked. Not only did he have 30 points on 10-for-10 shooting, but he had four assists before you factor in the number of hockey assists that he had thanks to his penetration.

VIDEO: UMBC channels Laettner, pulls off the play of the year

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UMBC pulled off a miraculous, full-court shot at the end of overtime to force a second OT in a win over America East rival New Hampshire on Saturday:

UMBC would go on to win in 2OT.

Report: Carlton Bragg Jr. charged with possession of drug paraphernalia

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Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was charged over the weekend with possession of drug paraphernalia, according to a report from the Kansas City Star.

Bragg was suspended for the Jayhawk win over No. 4 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday, leading to speculation that his suspension had to do with an investigation into an alleged rape of a 16-year old in the dorm where the Kansas basketball players live.

Bill Self released a statement on Thursday night saying that the suspension did not have anything to do with that investigation, and, to a point, he’s right. But during the course of the investigation, according to court papers obtained by the Star, the KU police found “two glass smoking devices with residue.” The police also noted that there is nothing to indicate that those devices have anything to do with the alleged rape.

KU police have not released any information about the suspect in the rape investigation.

In December, Bragg was suspended for a game against Nebraska after an allegation of domestic violence made by an ex-girlfriend. That allegation was proven to be false, and the women has since been charged with battery. She was in court last week.

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange

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The Orange thrust themselves back into the NCAA tournament pictures this week, as they knocked off Wake Forest and Florida State in the Carrier Dome.

The two wins bump the Orange up to 13-9 on the season and 5-4 in the league, but, more importantly, the two wins are two of the best wins that the Orange have this season. Syracuse has the look of a tournament team on paper. The problem is their tournament profile: It just isn’t good enough.

They’ve lost to UConn, Boston College, Georgetown and St. John’s already this season, losses that wouldn’t be bad if this was 2007 instead of 2017. As it stands, none of those four teams are going to the NCAA tournament, and it means that the Orange are going to have to pick up a lot of high-RPI wins in the next five weeks if they want a chance to dance. Florida State factors in there. Wake Forest actually has pretty decent computer numbers, and there is the win over Miami from last month that will carry some weight as well.

But maybe, just maybe, these are the kind of wins that can get the ship righted for the Orange as they enter a crucial stretch of their schedule. Three of their next four and four of their next six games are on the road. But, more importantly, three of their remaining four homes games are against Louisville, Virginia and Duke. Quality wins are there for the taking.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Georgetown: All of a sudden, Georgetown looks like a team that still have a prayer of getting to the NCAA tournament. After nearly going a full year between wins over Big East foes not named Creighton or DePaul, the Hoyas picked off No. 16 Creighton and No. 11 Butler on the road in the same week.
  • Georgia Tech: At this point in the season, the Yellow Jackets are an NCAA tournament team. That doesn’t mean they’re a lock to dance on Selection Sunday – there are still plenty of chances for them to do dumb things over the course of the next six weeks – but after blowing out Florida State and beating Notre Dame, Josh Pastner looks like he’ll be heading back to the Big Dance.
  • Miami: The Hurricanes landed the quality win their profile desperately lacked, smacking around North Carolina on Saturday to improve to 16-5 on the season. Miami looks like they are a tournament team.
  • West Virginia: The Mountaineers kept the door open for everyone else in the Big 12 this season as they picked off the Kansas Jayhawks in Morgantown this week.
  • Tennessee: The Vols gave Kentucky their first loss of the season in Knoxville on Tuesday and followed that up by beating a good Kansas State team over the weekend.

Player of the Week: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville

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This week capped off a stretch where Donovan Mitchell has been on a tear.

He’s hit for at least 15 points in eight of his last nine games, going for 20 in five and 25 in three of those nine. Over the last seven games, Mitchell, who has been somewhat inconsistent shooting the ball this season, is 24-for-47 (51.1%) from beyond the arc.

This past week was as dominant as he’s been this season. Mitchell had 29 points in the 55-point win the Cardinals landed over Pitt, following that up with 28 points and some suffocating defense on Dennis Smith Jr. as Louisville picked off N.C. State. He was 12-for-18 from three in those two games, and is now shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc on the season.

It’s also probably worth noting that, in two games where the Cards were mostly playing without their two point guards Tony Hicks and Quentin Snider, Mitchell averaged 4.0 assists.

As a team, Louisville has now made 24 threes in their last two games and is shooting 35.9 percent from beyond the arc. For a team whose biggest concern is perimeter shooting, that’s starting to look less and less concerning.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett popped off for 40 points on 15 shots in a close loss at Cincinnati, following that up with 21 points and 10 boards as the Musketeers went into Madison Square Garden and knocked off St. John’s.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The Jayhawks lost at West Virginia to start the week, but it was the 22 points from Josh Jackson that kept Kansas within striking distance for most of the game. Then on Saturday, he was the best player on the floor as Kansas went into Rupp Arena and picked off Kentucky, finishing with 20 points, 10 boards, three assists, two steals and the biggest bucket of the game down the stretch.
  • Andrew White III, Syracuse: In the biggest week of the season for the Orange, White was the best player on the floor, averaging 26.5 points in wins over Miami and Florida State that have given the Syracuse some hope of getting an at-large bid.
  • Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech: Okogie had 35 points and 14 boards on Wednesday night, helping lead the Yellow Jackets to a blowout win over then-No. 6 Florida State in Atlanta. They would follow that win up by knocking off then-No. 14 Notre Dame on Saturday.
  • Esa Ahmad, West Virginia: Ahmad torched No. 2 Kansas on Tuesday night, popping off for 27 points as the Mountaineers landed their second massive win over a top two team at home this season.