Rob Dauster

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Carlton Bragg suspended indefinitely

2 Comments

Carlton Bragg Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “a violation of team rules,” Kansas announced late on Thursday night.

Bragg is currently the backup power forward for the No. 2 Jayhawks and one of just two big men that see time in the Kansas rotation. This essentially means that Landen Lucas will be forced to deal with Bam Adebayo and the No. 4 Kentucky front line on his won in Saturday afternoon’s game in Lexington.

Head coach Bill Self did note in the release that “this violation is not connected to the alleged incident in McCarthy Hall on December 17th.” Bragg is a witness in the investigation of an alleged sexual assault involving a 16-year old girl that happened in the dorm on the Kansas campus where the basketball team lives. .

Bragg was held out of a game against Nebraska earlier this year after he was accused of domestic violence, but those charges were dropped when video evidence surfaced that indicated Bragg’s accuser was lying. That incident occurred a week before the alleged sexual assault.

Coach K calls team meeting, bans players from locker room, wearing team gear

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
10 Comments

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called a meeting on Tuesday night at his house where he revoked the team’s access to the locker room, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The team has also been banned from wearing Duke gear on campus. ESPN.com was the first to report the news, citing a source that said the rights won’t be returned to the players, “until they start living up to the standards of the Duke program.”

The meeting occurred a day after Duke lost at home to N.C. State.

As we detailed in an extensive story yesterday, there are a myriad of issues within this Duke program. They lack leadership and they lack an identity as the talented players on the roster grapple for different roles.

Three takeaways from USC’s upset of No. 8 UCLA

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
2 Comments

Shaqquan Aaron scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half and USC hit 14 threes as a team as the Trojans knocked off No. 8 UCLA in the Galen Center on Wednesday night, 84-76.

USC jumped out to a 50-38 halftime lead and never let the Bruins get within four points in the second half.

Elijah Stewart and Deanthony Melton were sensational, finishing with a combined 26 points, 13 boards, nine assists and seven steals in the win while Chimezie Metu added 13 points, seven boards and a pair of thunderous dunks for the Trojans.

UCLA’s perimeter defense continued to be an issue, but the more surprising concern for this team: They shot really poorly from beyond the arc for the second straight game while Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s all-american candidate, had seven of the team’s 17 turnovers.

Here are three things we learned in USC’s win:

1. USC needed this win badly: The Trojans started out the season strong, winning their first 14 games of the year, which included a trip to Texas A&M, a win over SMU at home and knocking off BYU on a neutral court. Doing it all while starting power forward Bennie Boatwright was injured only added to the optimism. But once Andy Enfield’s club got into the throes of Pac-12 play, once their schedule started to strengthen, the going was quite so easy. Entering Wednesday night, USC was 4-4 in league play, but those four wins came against Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado, none of whom will be confused with a tournament team this season.

USC was smoked at Oregon. They were smoked at Utah. They needed a wild rally in a loss against Arizona at home to avoid getting smoked. That’s what makes this win so important. It’s not only a résumé-booster, but it’s the kind of performance that can build the confidence of a team that was struggling with it.

2. UCLA still isn’t getting stops: Entering Wednesday, the Bruins ranked 125th nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric after giving up 96 points to Arizona. Things weren’t much better for the Bruins in the first half against USC, as they game up 50 points in 39 possessions, getting lit up by a series of straight-line drives, kick-outs to open shooters and ball-screen actions. We wrote on Tuesday that the Bruins are no longer a Final Four contender if they cannot figure out their defensive woes. As of Wednesday night, the Bruins had not figured out their defensive woes.

3. And they’ve apparently forgotten how to shoot the ball: The Bruins are one of the best three-point shooting teams we’ve seen in recent college basketball history. Entering Wednesday night, UCLA was shooting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc, a number that ranks second nationally, but their ability to reel on 19 threes in a game – like they did earlier this season – is what makes them so lethal. When they get into a rhythm like that, it doesn’t matter how bad their defense is. They have the firepower to win anyway.

In these two most recent losses, the Bruins have not shot the ball well at all from the perimeter. Against Arizona, they were 10-for-31 from three. Against USC, they were 6-for-21. If UCLA cannot get stops and they are not making threes, they’re not going to be winning all that often.

The other concerning aspect about their offense on Wednesday night was that the Bruins really seemed to struggle against the 2-3 zone that USC played. They committed 13 first half turnovers and finished with 17 turnovers for the game. With shooters everywhere on the floor and as many as three point guards on the court at the same time, it’s unacceptable for a team as talented as UCLA to have those kind of issues against zone.

No. 16 Creighton’s season on the ropes after blowout by Georgetown

Eric Francis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Creighton, without Mo Watson, is lost.

It’s expected, and it’s understandable, and most of all it’s a cruel twist in what should have been the best season in the history of the program.

But it’s a truth that head coach Greg McDermott is going to have to confront head-on if he wants the Bluejays to have a chance to make any noise this season.

No. 16 Creighton was smoked on Wednesday night by a Georgetown team that was 1-6 in the Big East and, prior to Wednesday, had lost to 16 straight Big East opponents not named DePaul or St. John’s; it’s been 364 days since the Hoyas beat the Bluejays in the Verizon Center last season. The final score was 71-51, but it didn’t feel all that close mostly because it never felt like the Bluejays were going to find a way to consistently get good shots, let alone score.

Creighton shot 35.1 percent from the floor, a number that drops to 25 percent when you remove Justin Patton’s 9-for-13 from the equation. The Bluejays were 1-for-18 from three, which is a disaster for a team that, even with a game-and-a-half without Watson on the books, was the 10th best offense, according to KenPom, and the nation’s ninth-best three-point shooting team.

And therein lies the problem for the Bluejays.

This team was built to play a certain way, and they just cannot play that way anymore.

“Maurice is a really good player. It’s not just me, he made the game easier for Coach Mac, me and all of my other teammates,” star center Justin Patton said. “We need to find a different way. When we stepped on campus on June 6th, we didn’t know what type of team we were, but we figured it out. Then we lost Maurice, and it’s like we’re back in that same position again.”

Since Watson, who was leading the nation in assists and found himself on every midseason all-american list, went down, the Bluejays have been using a point guard-by-committee. They’ve started Isaiah Zierdan, a senior sharpshooter that understands how to play but lacks the physical ability to get into the lane and draw defenders the way Watson could. Davion Mintz is a freshman that looked as promising in the loss to Marquette – 17 points and eight assists – as he did in-over-his-head against the Hoyas.

It got to the point that Creighton gave former walk-on Tyler Clement major minutes as McDermott tried to find an answer.

“We’re going to need some young guys to grow up really fast,” McDermott said. “We have to have guys step up and play better, and some guys are being asked to play a role they’ve never played at any point in their career. It’s tough to do that in late January.”

Oddly enough, in a blowout loss that was a deflating dose of reality, Creighton may have found an answer, although it wasn’t exactly hiding.

It’s Patton.

A redshirt freshman that had jettisoned himself from being a relative unknown to a potential lottery pick, he had 20 points and seven boards against the Hoyas, showing off a dominant array of post moves and looking unstoppable at times. This isn’t the first time he’s played this way, either, and that may be the future of this Creighton program.

If run-and-gun doesn’t work, maybe force-feeding the ball to the best big man in the conference will.

“Justin is not going to be able to make freshman mistakes for us to progress like we need to progress,” McDermott said. “That’s not fair to him. He’s a freshman. He’s 19 years old. He’s supposed to be able to make those mistakes, but our situation is different than it was before.”

The danger in that, however, is that there are essentially six weeks left in the season. Even if McDermott wanted to overhaul what Creighton does offensively, it’s not exactly feasible. At this point in the season, college basketball teams aren’t grinding through practices the way they did earlier in the season. There’s some skill work and some conditioning, but for the most part, these practices are made up of game-planning and prepping to play against their upcoming opponents while dealing with cross-country travel and two games a week.

In other words, installing a new offense now is more difficult than figuring out how to tweak what they do to fit the personnel that is still available.

“I don’t think you can take down and start over,” McDermott said. “We need more time to make the changes that we have to make. But we’e two thirds into the season, we can’t be pounding them into the ground, especially with the injuries and illness we’ve had. It’s tough, but the reality is we have to keep doing it.”

“We just gotta play together without Maurice for a little bit longer,” Patton added, “and we’ll be fine.”

Louisville loses point guard Tony Hicks to broken hand

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Louisville’s 106-51 win over Pitt ended up being far more costly than anyone in the program realized.

Tony Hicks, Louisville’s backup point guard, broke his hand during the game and will be out for the next six-to-eight weeks, the program announced on Wednesday. Hicks is averaging 4.6 points this season.

“Upon further examination this morning, a spiral fracture of his fourth metacarpal was discovered,” the said in a statement.

Eight weeks from today is March 22nd, or the day before the start of the Sweet 16.

“Tony was just fitting in at the point position and has made great progress,” coach Rick Pitino said in a statement. “We will keep him in great condition and hope we make a long run in the tournament so he can play in his first NCAA tournament.”

Louisville is currently playing without starting point guard Quentin Snider, who is dealing with a hip flexor injury. In the two games the Cardinals have played without Snider, Hicks averaged 13 points.

What’s wrong with Duke?: Why the consensus preseason No. 1 team is spiraling

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
8 Comments

Five weeks ago, fresh off of a win in the Jimmy V Classic in which then-No. 5 Duke knocked off Florida and was on the verge of getting Harry Giles, the third of the program’s three elite and injured freshmen, back from his layoff, the Blue Devils looked the part of a team on the verge of making a run at winning Mike Krzyzewski’s sixth national title.

Fast forward to Monday night, and the team is a total mess despite the fact that Blue Devils have every one of their key players available.

Duke lost for the third time in their last four games and for the fourth in in seven ACC games when, on Monday night, they blew a number of second half leads and fell to N.C. State at home for the first time since 1995. Coach K is still recovering from surgery on his back and has not been on the sidelines for the last five games. Grayson Allen has looked like a shell of himself for most of the season, particularly over the course of the last month, since his third tripping incident of 2016 has turned him into a media sensation that college basketball has never before seen. Giles isn’t anywhere near the player that he was before his knee surgeries, and it’s looking less and less likely that we’ll see him get close that level this year. Jayson Tatum isn’t playing like a top five pick. Marques Bolden looks nothing like a lottery pick. Luke Kennard was sensational early in the season but is being pushed back into a complimentary role.

All of this coming from a team that, on paper, should be as talented as anyone we’ve seen in recent history.

How has it gone so wrong for Duke?


PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after losing 76-62 to the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

1. The Luke Kennard conundrum: Right now, Luke Kennard is the guy playing the best for Duke, and he’s the only one on the team that seems to realize it. This is the crux of the issue for Duke.

By almost any measure that you use, Kennard has been the star of this team. He’s their leading scorer. He has, by far, the highest offensive rating on the team, according to KenPom.com. He’s by far their best three-point shooter. The only guy that’s shooting better from inside the arc is Amile Jefferson. What he’s doing this season isn’t all that different from what Grayson Allen did last season, when he was a second-team all-american. The way Kennard’s been playing, he’s the one that should have the offense built around him.

“They need to make Kennard the focal point,” said a person who has scouted the Blue Devils this season.

Only, that’s not how it has gone. Since the Dec. 19th game against Tennessee State, when things started to spiral for Duke, Kennard has averaged 11.2 shots per game, down from 13.5 in the first 11 games of the season. During that same stretch, Tatum has averaged 13.6 shots while getting more shots than Kennard in eight of the nine games. If you like advanced stats, the numbers are similarly glaring: Tatum took an average of 28.4 percent of the shots while he was on the floor during those nine games. Kennard checked in at 21.9 percent. On the season, Kennard’s usage rate is 22.0. Tatum’s is 27.8.

Kennard has his flaws, and Tatum is inarguably a better NBA prospect, and this has created an issue because Tatum is a ball-stopper. He’s terrific when he’s allowed to operate in isolation, but he lacks feel. He doesn’t read when and where help is coming from. He doesn’t make his teammates better. He can’t create shots for anyone else. He doesn’t seem to have an understanding of when he should try to takeover and when it’s time to keep the offense moving. It’s not all that different from what Brandon Ingram did last season, but this Duke team and that Duke team have very different supporting casts. They needed Ingram to take over in stretches last season – more on Ingram in a second – and he did, while still managing to shoot less than Tatum is this season.

That leads me into the next point …

2. … that Duke lacks an identity: Whose team is this? Who is the go-to guy? Who is the player that offense will run through? Who do they build around?

It should be Grayson Allen, right? He was the Preseason National Player of the Year. He is the guy that averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists last season. He’s the guy that returned to Duke for his junior season in part because he wanted to leave a legacy at the program; no one has won two national titles at Duke since Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. But given his propensity for tripping people, the Laettner legacy that Allen has followed has been very different than what he was hoping for, and the scrutiny those incidents brought upon him has turned Allen into a guy that looks nothing like the player we saw last season.

No one has filled that void in his absence.

“They have too many guys who think it’s their team,” one NBA front office member said. “No identity.”

Which brings me back to Kennard.

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 14: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 14, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

For the Blue Devils to reach their ceiling, he cannot be their best player. I don’t say that to take away from his ability. He is quite clearly capable of being their best player; he’s been doing it for two months.

I say that because, quite simply, Allen and Tatum should be better than him. They are more talented. But as of today, we’re now more than halfway through the season and those two just haven’t been good enough.

It really is that simple.

“And that’s part of the problem,” a coach who has game-planned for Duke said, adding that this where injuries have really taken their toll.

You see, Duke has never really had a chance to gel. If you include Coach K into the equation, they’ve essentially played one game where they had all of their preferred starters available and one of the greatest to ever do it on the sideline. You’ve heard this a thousand times by now, but teams figure out their pecking order, their rotation and the hierarchy of who gets shots and when they get them during games in November and December. Duke did just that, and then they had a wrench thrown into the gears when Tatum returned, when Bolden returned and when Giles returned, not to mention when Allen finally got healthy.

And now this is the situation they face: Kennard has gotten used to being ‘the man’ this season, Allen spent all of last season as ‘the man’ while Tatum – and, to a lesser extent, Giles and Bolden – entered the program with the expectation of being ‘the man’.

Something has to give. Someone has to accept a role.

And, over the course of the last month, that just hasn’t happened the way that it needs to.

3. That whole “Duke doesn’t have a point guard” story line? It’s an issue: Back to Allen, part of the reason that he is struggling is that he is being asked to play out of position. He’s not a point guard, but he’s the best point guard that Duke currently has on their roster.

There is a difference between a play maker and a point guard, which is similar to the difference between playing the point and being a point. Allen is a playmaker. He’s a better passer than he gets credit for. He can get into the paint, draw a defense and find an open man. But he’s an attack-minded player. He wants to be aggressive. That’s when he’s at his best, and that’s what his natural instinct is. He’s being asked to facilitate, and it has become clear that this is not working as well as Duke would have hoped.

Frank Jackson isn’t quite ready to play a facilitatory role, either.

“They just don’t have that guy,” said a coach who has faced Duke this season.

What they do have, however, is nine McDonald’s All-Americans, and in theory, that should be good enough. They were fine offensively last season when they had the same point guard concerns, but that’s because there was a hierarchy that was quite clear. Everyone knew that Allen was the star, Brandon Ingram was the next option and Kennard was the guy that took over if defenses focused on those two.

That’s not the case this year.

“They don’t know where they’re getting shots from because they haven’t been a collective unit long enough,” the coach said.

GREENSBORO, NC - DECEMBER 21: Luke Kennard #5 and Harry Giles #1 of the Duke Blue Devils react during their game against the Elon Phoenix at the Greensboro Coliseum on December 21, 2016 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Duke won 72-61. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Harry Giles (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

4. Does this group even like playing with each other?: Do they like each other, period?

What made Duke’s second half performance on Saturday afternoon so promising, what made so many people – myself included – think that it could end up being the turning point in their season, is that, for the first time in a long time, Duke actually looked like they were having fun playing basketball.

That’s because they were, sources connected to the program said.

And the result was that second half, the best defensive performance the Blue Devils have had since they won the 2015 national title.

Defense has been a constant concern for the Blue Devils since Coach K has fully embraced the one-and-done method of chasing titles, and this season is no different. They’ve been lit up in ball-screens. They’ve been getting beaten one-on-one. They looked incapable of keeping anyone out of the lane in their four conference losses, the most recent of which featured a 32-point, six-assist outburst by Dennis Smith Jr. But they’ve also shown flashes of being really, really good on that end of the floor.

Where does the inconsistency come from?

Part of it is youth. For example, it’s hard to expect freshmen big men to enter college with a complete understanding of what they have to do defensively. In high school, they stand in front of the rim and block shots. In college, Giles and Bolden are being asked to hedge hard on ball-screens, to switch onto smaller defenders, to defend big men that can make jumpers, to be in the right place in help-side. There’s a lot more on their plate, and they’re barely a month into their playing career after getting healthy. They are improving.

But there’s more to it than that.

For all the talk about athleticism and length and defensive tools, the single-most important skill when it comes to being a good individual defender is effort. From a team perspective, communication may be the most important part of putting together a well-oiled defense. As cliché as it sounds, teams that don’t like playing with each other – that don’t make the extra effort to take a charge, that don’t give their all trying to stop their man, that reach for a steal instead of moving their feet to plug a driving lane, that don’t talk to their teammates on screens or switches or rotations – aren’t very good on the defensive end of the floor.

Ask yourself this: Is it a coincidence that Duke team’s best defensive half came when they were actually enjoying each other’s presence on the court?


DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 21: Acting head coach Jeff Capel of the Duke Blue Devils watches his team l during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Acting head coach Jeff Capel (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The question that needs to be asked now is whether or not this team can actually turn this thing around, and I don’t know if they can.

Getting Coach K back should make a difference, but will it be enough for Duke to actually be able to make a run in the tournament in March?

In 2014, the answer to that question was yes. Kentucky entered the year with more hype than any team in John Calipari’s tenure with the Wildcats, and they promptly lost to Michigan State in the Champions Classic. Then they lost Baylor. And North Carolina. And Arkansas. Before you knew it, those Wildcats were finishing off a 22-9 regular season where they went 12-6 in the SEC and finished a full six games behind Florida for the conference regular season title.

But that group was able to shake off whatever ailed them in March. They went to the SEC tournament final, where they lost to No. 1 Florida by a point. They got slotted in a nightmare region in the NCAA tournament, then proceeded to beat No. 1 seed and undefeated Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin – all of whom were top ten teams in the polls entering the tournament – to get to the national title game.

They lost to UConn in the finals.

That UConn team was led by Shabazz Napier, who went through a similarly catastrophic season two years earlier. In 2011-12, UConn landed a commitment from Andre Drummond, the best prospect in the Class of 2011, on August 26th, six weeks before practices were scheduled to start. That vaulted the Huskies, who were coming off of a national title the previous April, to the top of every preseason poll, even beating out North Carolina and Kentucky – who would prove to be far and away the two best teams in the country that year – for a couple of votes for No. 1.

But that team, which was as talented as any of their counterparts, would lose to Central Florida in the Bahamas. Then they lost to Seton Hall and Rutgers in back-to-back games early on in Big East play. There was one stretch during the season where they lost nine out of 12 before finishing 8-10 in the Big East and landing a No. 8 seed in the tournament.

Unlike Kentucky, UConn did not have a bonding moment prior to the Big Dance. They were bounced by Iowa State in the first round. In the locker room after the game, Napier punched a locker in frustration in front of members of the media as he watched his teammates laugh their way to the end of the season.

Duke’s season appears destined to follow one of those two paths.

In a world where Giles is back to 100 percent, Allen’s head is in the game and Tatum understands that Kennard is the team’s best player right now, Duke clearly has the talent to do what Kentucky did.

That team can win a national title.

But are we actually going to see that team at any point the rest of this season?