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CBT Podcast: Michael Porter Jr is back, Duke and Kentucky might be back, Allonzo Trier’s gone

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Fun episode today. Rob Dauster was joined by one of the up-and-coming stars at ESPN, Dalen Cuff, to talk through the changes that Duke and Kentucky have made in recent weeks and whether or not that changes our perception of those teams moving forward. They also discussed Trae Young’s regression as well as the root of their soccer fandom, and all of that happened roughly 90 minutes before news broke that Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. was cleared by doctors to play while Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was once against ineligible for a positive PED test, so Travis Hines of NBC Sports jumped on the podcast to talk through all of that. The rundown:

OPEN: Should Michael Porter Jr. play this season?

10:05: Did Allonzo Trier get screwed by the NCAA?

16:55: Why did Dalen Cuff sully his name by becoming an Arsenal fan?

26:20: Why has Duke been better without Marvin Bagley III?

34:05: Is Jarred Vanderbilt the key to unlock Kentucky’s potential?

39:25: Have you changed your outlook on Duke or Kentucky in the long-term?

43:45: Texas Tech losing Keenan Evans was a bummer.

48:00: So let’s talk about this Trae Young slump.

Bubble Banter: It is a massive night for teams on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

UPDATED FOR SUSPENDED GAME

SETON HALL (RPI: 27, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 9): The Pirates landed their fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season on Thursday afternoon, picking off Providence in a game that had to be replayed after condensation on the floor made it unsafe to play on; leading scorer Desi Rodriguez sprained his ankle in the game. The tough part for the Pirates is that they have a tough finish to the regular season — at St. John’s, Villanova, Butler — and they may have to play it without Rodriguez.

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 37, KenPom: 69, NBC seed: 8): The Friars dropped to 17-11 on the season on Wednesday after they finished up their suspended game against Seton Hall. The Friars should be alright based on the wins they’ve put together — five in Quadrant 1, including wins over both Xavier and Villanova at home. The problem is that they have two Quadrant 3 and a Quadrant 4 loss. Their remaining schedule isn’t easy, either: at Georgetown, at Xavier, St. John’s. I think the Friars are in a more difficult spot that some are letting on.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: , KenPom: 46, NBC seed: 11): The Wildcats won their third straight game on Wednesday, beating Texas at home. They’re now 20-8 on the season and 9-6 in the Big 12 with three Quadrant 1 wins and a 9-7 record against the top two Quadrants. They have just one non-Quadrant 1 loss. The sticking points here: KSU has an atrocious non-conference SOS and their best wins are TCU, Oklahoma, at Baylor and at Texas. Their remaining schedule: at Oklahoma, at TCU, Baylor.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 49, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies added their fifth Quadrant 1 win of the season on Wednesday night as they knocked off Clemson at home. The Tigers have been sliding a little bit and were playing without Shelton Mitchell, but that is not going to factor in in the eyes of the Selection Committee. At this point, with a 20-8 record, I think we can move the Hokies out of the Bubble Banter discussion for the time being.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 58, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: First four out): The Golden Eagles won their second straight game and their third game in the last four. They are 4-8 against Quadrant 1 and 8-11 against the top two Quadrants. Three of their four Quadrant 1 wins went on the road — Providence, Seton Hall, Creighton — but the Golden Eagles can’t really improve themselves during the regular season. Their last three games: at DePaul, at Georgetown, Creighton. Frankly, I think Marquette needs to win four or five in a row to have a real chance at getting a bid.

TCU (RPI: 21, KenPom: 23, NBC seed: 10): For a team that plays in the Big 12, it’s weird that TCU’s two best wins this season came over Nevada (13) and Saint Bonaventure (25) on neutral courts. All told, the Horned Frogs have four Quadrant 1 wins and a 7-9 record against the top two Quadrants after winning at Iowa State on Wednesday. They’re in a good spot, but with home games against Baylor and Kansas State left before a trip to Texas Tech and the Big 12 tournament, I still think that they to win two more games this season.

USC (RPI: 36, KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Next four out): The Trojans won their third straight game, picking off Colorado in Boulder. With just two Quadrant 1 wins and a loss to Princeton (216) at home, I think they need to win their last two games — at Utah, UCLA — if they want to get into the tournament.

ST. BONAVENTURE (RPI: 26, KenPom: 68, NBC seed: Play-in game): There is no margin for error for the Bonnies. With two bad losses on their résumé right now and just three Quadrant 1 wins, they’re right on the cusp of being in the tournament. If they win out during the regular season and lose to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament, I think they will get a bid. If they lose to anyone else, it’ll be close. No matter what happens, it is not going to be a fun Selection Sunday for Mark Schmidt and company.

LOSERS

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 52, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: First four out): The Cardinals are not a tournament team as of today, and losing at Duke is not the reason why. They have three Quadrant 1 and 2 wins combined. The Quadrant 1 wins? At Florida State and at Notre Dame. The Quadrant 2 win? Virginia Tech at home. The good news is their “worst” losses are Florida State and Syracuse at home, and they have three Quadrant 1 games remaining: at Virginia Tech, Virginia, at N.C. State. I think they’ll want to win two of those.

FLORIDA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 29, NBC seed: 9): Suddenly, the Florida Gators are 17-11 on the season and 8-7 in the SEC. They’ve lost three in a row. They’ve lost five of their last seven and six of their last nine. And they have their toughest stretch of the season coming up: Auburn, at Alabama, Kentucky. The good news is that they have some really good wins. They’ve beaten Gonzaga on a neutral. They beat Cincinnati on a neutral. They won at Texas A&M, at Missouri and at Kentucky. But 11 losses is a lot of losses, especially when it would be very, very easy for them to lose two of their last three games. Who had the Gators on the bubble after PK-80?

TEXAS (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: 11): The Longhorns are in a tough spot after losing at Kansas State on Wednesday. Texas has lost four of their last five and five of their last seven. They’re 16-12 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12. But they also have five Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-12 record against the top two Quadrants. They also have some pretty impressive wins. They beat Texas Tech, they beat TCU, they won at Alabama, they swept Oklahoma. They need to win at least two of their next three: Oklahoma State, at Kansas, West Virginia. That still might not actually be enough.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 46, KenPom: 45, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Orange lost at home to North Carolina on Wednesday night. They entered this week having to win two of their last four games to feel good about where they stood heading into the ACC tournament. They’re at Duke on Saturday and then at BC and home against Clemson. The last two were always the two games they were most likely to win.

PENN STATE (RPI: 76, KenPom: 25, NBC seed: Out): The Nittany Lions had a chance to get this thing done. Losing by three at Purdue was a killer; they were up by nine in the first half of a game that would have been one of college basketball’s 10-15 best wins this season. Then, on Wednesday, the lost to Michigan at home. A win at Nebraska would help — that’s a Quadrant 1 game — but it probably won’t be enough. The Nittany Lions are going to have work to do in the Big Ten tournament regardless.

 

Gregg Marshall: Wichita State, Michigan should play non-con game called ‘2013 national title game’

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Now that Louisville’s 2013 national title is officially no longer in existence, the teams that the Cardinals beat on their way to the top are trying to figure out just what they can do to, possibly, pick up that award.

At a press conference this week, Gregg Marshall — who coached the Wichita State team that Louisville dispatched in the Final Four — brought up the idea of potentially playing a game against John Beilein’s Michigan team, who lost in the title game to the Cardinals.

“I was with Coach Beilein in Maui and he and I had a conversation and I jokingly brought up that we should play a game and dub in the 2013 national title game,” Marshall said.

That would be fun!

But it doesn’t sound like Beilein would actually be open to it.

“We didn’t win it all. We lost to a great team. If someone else wants to come and say ‘hey, you won it all, you’re the champion.’ We’ll take it,” Beilein said Tuesday. “But I’m not going to declare that. I’m declaring that we played our tail off that entire year and got every bit out of what was, remember, a really young team. Freshmen and sophomores all over the place.

“That was a great basketball team.”

Womp womp.

Wednesday’s Three Things to Know: Duke blows out Louisville, Texas Tech falls to Oklahoma State

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1. DUKE PICKED UP ITS FOURTH STRAIGHT WIN IN IMPRESSIVE FASHION (DESPITE MISSING MARVIN BAGLEY III ONCE AGAIN).

Duke was, once again, missing freshman star Marvin Bagley III with a knee injury, but it didn’t seem to matter too much as the Blue Devils ran past Louisville for an 82-56 win. Grayson Allen had 28 points to pace the Duke offense while Wendell Carter Jr. continued to look strong on the interior without Bagley.

CBT’s Rob Dauster explores Duke’s recent stretch without Bagley and wonders if the team might have a better defense without the All-American big man.

2. OKLAHOMA STATE UPSET NO. 6 TEXAS TECH AS KANSAS NOW HAS A ONE-GAME BIG 12 LEAD.

The Cowboys dropped the Red Raiders in Stillwater to earn a Big 12 upset win in this one. But the bigger story is Kansas assuming sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with another Texas Tech loss. The two Big 12 leaders are still scheduled to meet in Lubbock on Saturday as the Red Raiders will get a chance to even things up with the Jayhawks in the conference race.

First, Texas Tech has to get senior guard Keenan Evans healthy again. Hampered by a toe injury the past two games, Evans didn’t look close to 100 percent on Wednesday night. An unhealthy Evans is a big reason for Texas Tech dropping a few games.

3. VIRGINIA TECH GETS THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

On a busy Wednesday night for bubble teams, no team did more for its case than Virginia Tech. The Hokies took advantage of a depleted No. 15 Clemson in picking up an ACC home win.

While Virginia Tech has looked like a safe bet to make the field thanks to some big wins, the win on Wednesday gives the Hokies a fifth Quadrant 1 win — a huge safety net for a team trying to get in the field.

CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament hopes while he also breaks down the rest of Wednesday’s bubble action in Bubble Banter.

No. 5 Duke’s defense turns up again as Blue Devils look like title favorite

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Duke is back!

After drubbing Louisville 82-56 in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils have now won four straight games despite the fact that they have been playing without Marvin Bagley III during this stretch.

Grayson Allen is back, too. He finished with 28 points on Wednesday night, making six threes and handing out threes assists. He entered Wednesday night averaging 22.3 points and 5.3 assists in his last three games, the first time all season long that he has scored more than 19 points in three consecutive games. He’s shooting the ball with confidence. He’s been moved into more of a playmaking, lead guard role in the half court offense as Coach K has transitioned back to being the focal point on that end, the first time he’s been in that role since his sophomore season.

Wendell Carter’s been on fire, too. He missed his fourth-straight double-double by a single rebound on Wednesday, but he did finish with 18 points, six assists and three blocks. In four games without Bagley, he’s now averaging 16.3 points, 10.5 boards, 3.0 blocks and 3.0 assists.

But that’s not why Duke is winning these games.

It’s not why I’m sitting here saying that Duke is back.

The reason why I’m warming up to the idea of Duke finding a way to be a Final Four team again is because they’ve figured out a way not only to just get stops, but to be damn good on the defensive end of the floor.

During this four-game stretch, Duke has not allowed a team to break 1.0 points-per-possession against while holding three of their four opponents to 57 points or less. In those four games, they’ve allowed 0.883 PPP. If they did that over the course of an entire season, the Blue Devils would be third-nationally defensive efficiency* behind only Virginia and Cincinnati. This is the first time they’ve held three straight ACC opponents under 60 points since 1981.

In the process, they’ve managed to climb from 79th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric to 27th, which is precisely the kind of drastic defensive improvement that the 2015 team made. They were in the 60s and 70s in adjusted defensive efficiency for much of the season. They were 37th before the tournament started. They were 11th when they cut down the nets.

And it begs the question: Is Duke better without Marvin Bagley III?

Lol.

No.

Don’t be stupid.

Marvin Bagley III is an alien. He makes every single team that he is on a better one.

What will be interesting to see is how Duke integrates him back into the team when he finally does return to the floor. There are two things that have allowed Duke to improve the way that they’ve improved over the course of the last two weeks, and both of them involve Bagley in a pretty significant way:

  1. The ball doesn’t stick as much offensively as it did when he was on the court. That’s why Allen’s been able to play the way that he’s played of late. The middle of the floor has also opened up because Duke’s gone away from trying to run high-low actions as much as they did before. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better to run offense this way, but you cannot convince that it’s a bad thing that Allen is back into a rhythm.
  2. Much more importantly, however, is that Duke has turned into a very good defensive team in this zone, and the biggest reason for that is the activity of Javin DeLaurier. Bagley is a terrific athlete, but he’s more of a five at this level than a four and he’s also a guy that is not an instinctual or, frankly, energetic defender. DeLaurier is more mobile and, since he’s not really a threat offensively, he can burn off of his energy on that end.

Bagley wasn’t the lone culprit for Duke’s defensive problems.

The bigger issue may have been simply that the Blue Devils vacillated between playing man and zone until these last four games, and Coach K fully embracing being a zone team has allowed them to figure it out. As one high-major coach put it to me, it’s better to be great at one defense than it is to be good at seven of them. Duke is doing that now.

But there is valid reason to be concerned about playing Bagley and Carter together simply because playing them together has been an issue defensively before.

Maybe that means that, instead of seeming them on the court together for 30 minutes a night, they’ll each play 10 minutes with DeLaurier at the four and play together for 20 minutes. Maybe it means that instead of being awesome defensively Duke is simply good enough, and maybe good enough is all they need to make a run in March this season.

And maybe the answer is that Bagley returns and is ready to defend the way that he needs to defend.

We’ve seen that happen, too. Remember the Miami game?

Whatever the case may be will play out over the course of the next six weeks. The one thing that is clear, however, is that these Blue Devils are suddenly a whole lot more intriguing than they were two weeks ago when they lost at North Carolina.

*(For those looking at KenPom, raw points-per-possession and KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric are two different numbers. The latter is the former adjusted for strength of opponent.)

Pinson scores career-high 23, UNC holds off Syracuse 78-74

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When Syracuse threatened one final time, Joel Berry II had an answer for North Carolina.

Theo Pinson scored a career-high 23 points, Berry added 18, including the tiebreaking layup with 1:36 left, and the No. 10 Tar Heels held off the Orange 78-74 on Wednesday night.

Syracuse had trailed almost the entire game until a late eight-point run knotted the score. Tyus Battle scored six of the points, his jumper with 3:05 to go tying it at 74.

With the clock ticking down inside the final 2 minutes, Syracuse had an opportunity to go ahead for the first time since the second minute. But after towering center Paschal Chukwu snared an important rebound after two straight Orange misses, Berry stole the ball and scored at the other end and the Tar Heels escaped.

“I knew he wasn’t a solid player when it came to holding onto the ball,” Berry said. “I saw through the span of the game his teammates were throwing it to him and he was losing the ball, so when he put it down it was like, `This is my opportunity to grab it,’ and so I just pulled it out and I got it.”

North Carolina (22-7, 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won six straight, but this was the most difficult against a team fighting for its postseason life. Syracuse (18-10, 7-8) was coming off an important road victory over Miami and was teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the game.

“We did everything we could to get back in it,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “These guys played their heart out. They have all year long. We did everything we could offensively to win. When you’re tied, you can’t make a turnover in that situation.”

The Orange shot 50 percent in the second half while holding UNC to 13-of-36 shooting (36.1 percent) to rally back, but they missed five shots in the final frantic 74 seconds.

“We just have to do a better job closing out games,” said Battle, who had 26 points but missed all five 3s he attempted. “Just missed a couple of shots at the end. We had the game won. We just gave them the ball, gave them plays.”

Sterling Manley had 12 points and top scorer Luke Maye had nine points and three rebounds, scoring only one point and snaring one rebound in the second half for UNC. Maye was averaging 18.4 and 10.5.

Frank Howard had 23 points and Oshae Brissett 17 points and 10 rebounds for Syracuse, the 10th double-double of his freshman year.

UNC built a double-digit lead early and every time Syracuse threatened the Tar Heels had an answer. Berry hit a 3 after Battle’s drive had made it a one-possession game, 51-48 with 14:33 left. When Chukwu lost an offensive rebound seconds later, Pinson roared in for a slam at the other end.

“They’re fighting to get into the tournament, so you knew they were going to keep coming at you,” said Pinson, who had seven assists. “They fought the whole game and I know they wish they had this one.”

Pinson’s three-point play midway through the half gave UNC a 61-51 lead, but the Orange weren’t through.

Battle’s driving layup moved Syracuse back within 68-64 with 6:32 to go as the season-high crowd of 27,165, largest in the nation this season, shook the Carrier Dome walls.

Another 3 by Berry gave UNC an eight-point edge before the Orange made a final push with an eight-point run to knot the score. Battle scored six of the points, his jumper with 3:05 to go tying it at 74.

After Berry put the Tar Heels ahead, he missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key, giving the Orange the ball with 32.6 seconds left.

Howard missed a 3-pointer with 17.2 seconds left and Berry’s two free throws iced it.

BIG PICTURE

UNC: With just two games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels are in the hunt for second place in the ACC. They entered the game a half-game behind second-place Duke, which played Louisville later Wednesday. An upcoming five-day break will give UNC a nice respite heading to the postseason. Carolina has 10 wins over current Quadrant I opponents, most in the country.

Syracuse: The Orange still have games against Boston College and two ranked teams — Duke and Clemson — as well as the ACC Tournament to bolster their resume for the postseason.

NUMBERS

UNC had 25 assists on 29 baskets while Syracuse had 13 on 25.

TOO MANY MEN

UNC used 10 players in the first half and seven scored as its bench held a 13-2 edge over the Orange’s reserves. High scorers were Maye and Manley with 8 apiece, Pinson with 7, and Berry 6. As usual, Battle, Howard and Brissett played every minute of the period for the Orange.

UP NEXT

UNC: The Tar Heels have five days off before they host Miami next Tuesday night.

Syracuse: The Orange travel to play No. 5 Duke on Saturday night.