North Carolina loses to Duke, but it’s not all bad news for the Tar Heels

11 Comments

North Carolina fans aren’t accustomed to seeing their team rack up moral victories, and rightfully so. When you’re one of the nation’s most storied basketball programs, a team that has sent countless players to the NBA and has won two of the last seven national titles, looking for the bright side of a loss isn’t normal.

But this year’s version of the Tar Heels is not a normal North Carolina team.

They’re young. They’re still learning how to play. They don’t have stars in the spots where you normally expect North Carolina to have stars.

And thus, after watching the Tar Heels waste a double-digit first half lead against arch-nemesis Duke on the road, losing 73-68, I’m not walking away thinking that life in Chapel Hill is over.

The last time we saw North Carolina play, they were getting dominated by No. 3 Miami in Miami. The Hurricanes jumped out to an early lead, hitting 15 threes and throwing alley-oops off the back board en route to an 87-61 win in front of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It was, pure and simple, an embarrassment.

Wednesday wasn’t.

In fact, if the Tar Heels didn’t miss six straight free throws in the second half, this would have been a very different basketball game.

For what feels like the first time since they hosted UNLV back in December, North Carolina was active and aggressive on defense. They jumped out to a 28-18 lead on the Blue Devils not simply because of a hot shooting start, but because they played as tough a brand of basketball as we’ve seen this season. They forced turnovers, they got a hand in the face of shooters and they forced Mason Plumlee to catch the ball 16 feet away from the basket. They took the Blue Devils out of any rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

It didn’t last, as Plumlee and Quinn Cook both combined for 18 points while Tyler Thornton’s hot-hand in the second half sparked the game-changing surge.

But then again, not many people even expected North Carolina to keep the game this close. Be honest: did you really think that the Heels would have a chance to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium before this game began?

There is some talent on the UNC roster. There aren’t a lot of great teams in the country this season. With the ACC in the midst of a down-season, there are plenty of games to be won in the ACC.

The Tar Heels still should make the NCAA tournament. They still have a chance to make some noise in March. And seeing them play this way should give some confidence — both to the fans, the players and the coaching staff — that this season can get better.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Four-star forward verbally commits to Ole Miss

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis has landed his second verbal commit in the Class of 2019, as four-star forward Antavion Collum made his pledge Tuesday afternoon.

The 6-foot-8 Collum, who chose Ole Miss over Florida State, Georgetown, Missouri and UNLV, joins 6-foot-9 power forward/center Rodney Howard in the Rebels’ 2019 class to date. A Memphis native who played both forward positions for the Team CP3 program on the Nike EYBL circuit, Collum made his pledge to Ole Miss less than two weeks after his official visit to the school.

Ole Miss will lose at least one scholarship player from its front court after the 2018-19 season, as Bruce Stevens is entering his senior season. Junior college transfers Brian Halums and Zach Naylor, redshirt junior Dominic Olejniczak and freshmen K.J. Buffen and Carlos Curry will all have eligibility remaining when Collum and Howard arrive on campus next summer.

Penn State, West Virginia set up hurricane relief exhibition

Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tuesday afternoon it was announced by Penn State and West Virginia that the two programs will meet in an exhibition that will benefit Hurricane Florence relief efforts. The exhibition will be played November 3 in Morgantown, with all proceeds being donated to the American Red Cross.

While the game won’t impact either team’s record, it is the first meeting between the Nittany Lions and Mountaineers since January 1991. At the time both schools were members of the Atlantic 10, with Penn State leaving to join the Big Ten that summer.

Ahead of the 2017-18 season there were numerous exhibitions matching Division I teams, a move that requires NCAA approval, in the name of charity. That’s certainly the most important aspect of these exhibitions, but it also gives coaches the chance to evaluate their players against similar competition as opposed to the standard preseason game against a Division II, III or NAIA opponent.

Teams also have the option of setting up scrimmages before the season begins, and those affairs cannot be viewed by the general public.

CBT Podcast: Breaking down our top 25, preseason All-Americans

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk podcast returns, Rob Dauster was joined by Raphielle Johnson to breakdown the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and the preseason All-American teams that were released this week.

Here is a full rundown of today’s podcast:

OPEN: Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Gonzaga are the clear-cut preseason top four.

19:30: Which top ten team is the most likely to be a bust?

22:30: What should we do with Loyola-Chicago heading into 2018-19?

25:15: Washington vs. Oregon as the Pac-12’s best.

30:00: Which team outside the top 25 will get to the Final Four?

32:05: R.J. Barrett vs. Carsen Edwards for Preseason Player of the Year and Zion Williamson vs. Tyus Battle for 1st team All-America.

39:40: Kentucky is No. 2 but doesn’t have a player on our 1st, 2nd or 3rd team All-America.

43:30: Who are the National Player of the Year sleepers?

No. 24 N.C. State Wolfpack: Can Kevin Keatts win without frontcourt?

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 24 N.C. State.


Kevin Keatts is in just his second season as the head coach of the Wolfpack but he’s already managed to more or less completely turn over a roster that had developed a reputation for completely underachieving.

Just two of N.C. State’s scholarship players were at N.C. State when Keatts was hired — point guard Markell Johnson and wing Torin Dorn. Of the 11 players that Keatts has landed, eight of them came via the transfer market, and Johnson is the only non-freshman on the roster that began his collegiate career in Raleigh.

Normally it takes three or four seasons before a new head coach is able to turn a roster over and get “his guys” into the program

With Keatts, it took him all of 18 months, and he already is coming off of a surprise trip to the 2018 NCAA tournament to boot.

The question that needs to be answered is this: Did Keatts simply find a way to get it done with the talent that Mark Gottfried let waste away on his roster last season?

Or is he just getting started?

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

N.C. STATE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

This team looks so much like the juggernauts that Keatts built at UNC Wilmington.

Prior to his move to Raleigh, Keatts spent three seasons with the Seahawks. He won at least a share of the CAA regular season title all three years, getting to the NCAA tournament twice where he lost by single-digits to ACC powerhouses Virginia and Duke.

Those UNCW teams were built around a certain style of play that isn’t all that dissimilar from what Shaka Smart did during his VCU days. UNCW wasn’t playing an all-out, gambling defense like Havoc, but they did defend full court and they did gamble for steals quite a bit and, most importantly, they were built around the idea that Keatts could play four guards at once, forcing enough turnovers with his pressure and creating enough mismatches on the offensive end that his team would win despite being outsized every time they stepped on the court.

Reading the tea leaves, it’s not hard to envision the Wolfpack doing something very similar this season. Of the 11 players that are eligible to play this year after it was announced that freshman Immanuel Bates will redshirt following shoulder surgery, seven of them are guards and two of their forwards are decidedly perimeter-oriented.

And that depth on the perimeter isn’t just bodies. They’re talented. Let’s start with Torin Dorn, the redshirt senior transfer from Charlotte that averaged 13.9 points last season. At 6-foot-5, I would not be surprised to see Dorn get quite a few minutes playing as a four for the Wolfpack; Keatts’ best teams at UNCW used Chris Flemmings, a 6-foot-5, 175-pound Division II transfer as their de-facto power forward, and he won himself a CAA Player of the Year award in the process.

Torin Dorn (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Along those same lines, I can see C.J. Bryce getting plenty of minutes alongside Dorn. Bryce, who also stands 6-foot-5, was a first-team all-CAA player as a sophomore at UNCW when he averaged 17.4 points. He followed Keatts to N.C. State and sat last season out as a redshirt.

Markell Johnson is in line for the starting point guard gig after leading the ACC in assists a season ago, and I would not be shocked to see him partnered with Braxton Beverly in the backcourt once again. Beverly started 26 games and averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 assists as a freshman after transferring into the program from Ohio State.

The reason I don’t think it is a guarantee that Beverly starts is due to the pieces that Keatts is bringing in around him. Eric Lockett is a graduate transfer from FIU that averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 boards last season. Devon Daniels is a redshirt sophomore that sat out last season after averaging 9.9 points as a freshman at Utah. Blake Harris, a former top 100 recruit, will be eligible immediately after transferring into N.C. State from Missouri, where he averaged 3.8 points before leaving the team in January.

Beverly has the inside track to a starting spot, but he is going to have to earn it, and that’s unequivocally a good thing if you are an N.C. State fan, because Beverly is a good player.

And that’s really what this comes down to for the Wolfpack.

Their guards are really good, there are a lot of them and if Keatts has proven anything during his coaching career, it’s that he can win with teams that have good guards.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games
Markell Johnson (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

BUT N.C. STATE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

There really is no frontcourt depth to speak of.

And while the guards are the players that have gotten all of the attention for Keatts’ best UNCW teams, the truth is that those teams had big men that were really good at doing what they needed to do to anchor that defense.

Neither C.J. Gettys nor Davontae Cacok put up stat lines that would ‘wow’ you, but they were really good at two things: Rebounding the ball and defending the rim.

I don’t know if there is a guy on this roster that can do those things. Wyatt Walker averaged 12.9 points and 9.7 boards for Samford back in 2016-17, but he dealt with a knee injury last season that limited him to just two games, and even then, he’s 6-foot-9 and had just 56 blocks in two-plus years. D.J. Funderburk is 6-foot-10, but he weighs just 210 pounds and is much more of a wing than he is a post. Put another way, he averaged just 4.4 boards in Junior College last season. Ian Steere is a good player but he’s not exactly a game-changing recruit; you don’t want him anchoring the frontcourt as a freshman.

The cruel irony is that Immanuel Bates might have been the guy that could help fill that void, but he’s going to redshirt to recover from his shoulder surgery, and even when healthy, he, like Steere, is not necessarily someone you want to rely on for more than some minutes off the bench.

This is an issue for a couple of reasons:

  1. When you play a gambling style of defense, having someone that can erase shots at the rim is so important. The offense is far more likely to be able to get to the rim, and making it just that much more difficult for those layups to be scored makes all the difference.
  2. N.C. State is already going to be playing small, which inherently hinders them on the glass. Having a big man on the floor that can vacuum up caroms on the defensive end helps to end possessions. As the saying goes, forcing a miss only matters if you get rebound.

This is likely going to be an issue for this team all season long. The answer is less solving the problem and more finding a way to work around it.

Braxton Beverly (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

It really is incredible just how many new faces there are going to be on this roster.

Dorn and Johnson are the only players that have been in Raleigh for more than two years. Just five of the 13 players on scholarship have been on campus for one year, and three of those five transferred into the program and sat out last season as redshirts.

Put another way, there is a ton of experience on this roster, but they have very little experience actually playing with each other.

I’d love to be able to analyze this deeper, but it’s really simple: We don’t know how teams are going to come together until we see them, you know, come together.

Role allocation, role acceptance, understanding the plays, learning defensive assignments. These are the things that are going to determine if the Wolfpack hit their ceiling.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

And frankly, I think that ceiling is pretty high.

I am a believer in Kevin Keatts. I think he’s a terrific basketball coach and a guy that will find a way to get the most out of the talent that is on his roster, and there is plenty of talent on this roster. It is also the kind of roster makeup that Keatts has had success with in the past.

That’s enough to look at this team and see a group that should make a return trip to the NCAA tournament and make a run at finishing fourth — behind Duke, Virginia and North Carolina — in the ACC.

But it’s hardly a guarantee.

Beyond the simple fact that we have no idea how this group is going to come together and the issues they have in the frontcourt, there are questions to be asked about whether or not this team has a go-to guy, or if the players that transferred into the program are anything more than role playing cast-offs from another program, or if the style that Keatts had success with in the CAA will work as well in the ACC.

N.C. State is going to be fun to follow this year precisely because of that fact.

We don’t really know what they are going to do this season. Hell, we don’t even really know what the starting lineup is going to be.

All we really know is they have talent on paper and one of the best young coaches in the league.

That’s a good combination of things to have.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 25 Marquette

NBC Sports Preseason All-Americans

Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB
Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports Preseason All-American teams.

We went with four teams this year, and at the bottom we listed every player that received at least one vote for one team.

Unlike past seasons, there is no shortage of options for Preseason National Player of the Year.

Three different players received at least one vote for us, and I would not be surprised to see two or three others pick up the title from someone on the internet between now and the start of the season.

Without further ado, here are our All-America teams.


R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett got the nod as the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year as he seems to be the safest pick this season even if he’s not the only potential Player of the Year on his own roster.

He is a bonafide star, a player that has proven the ability to be a game-changer against elite competition despite the fact that he is just a freshman. Remember, two summers ago, Barrett — just three weeks after his 17th birthday — was the star of Canada’s U19 national team that won the FIBA U19 World Cup. In a game against Team USA in the semifinals of the event, Barrett had 38 points, 13 boards and six assists. That team featured first round picks Kevin Huerter and Josh Okogie as well as current All-Americans Carsen Edwards and P.J. Washington, among others.

A 6-foot-8 point guard, Barrett — along with Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish — will be the latest face of the small-ball movement at Duke. Williamson is going to get all the hype and be the one to go viral and there are those that believe that Reddish actually has a higher ceiling should he put it all together, but this is going to be Barrett’s team in 2018-19. I fully expect him to have the kind of season that will justify being taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Carsen Edwards (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

Edwards is going to put up massive numbers this season if the Boilermakers are going to be as good as some project them to be. A borderline top 25 team that should make it back to the NCAA tournament, Purdue is losing four senior starters off of last year’s roster. Edwards — who averaged a team-high 18.5 points this past season — is going to be thrust into a role where he is asked to carry this group while showcasing more point guard ability than he has in the past. I don’t think averaging 24 points is out of the question, although I think he’s more likely to put together a junior season that looks something like the year Aaron Holiday had for UCLA in 2017-18 — averaging 20 points and six assists for a team that gets into the tournament as a double-digit seed.

RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

The Japanese forward only recently arrived back on campus after taking part in FIBA World Cup qualifiers with his national team. Hachimura is exactly the kind of big, athletic and versatile forward that dominates basketball in today’s day and age. He’ll need to be a more consistent perimeter shooter, and there are still times where he seems to get lost defensively, but 6-foot-8 combo-forwards with his physical tools do not come around often. He scored 24 points in an upset win over a very good Australian national team this summer in a World Cup qualifier.

DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

The Memphis transfer is in line to be the focal point of a loaded Kansas attack that will enter the year as the No. 1 team in the country in the NBC Sports Top 25. Lawson is precisely the kind of player that Bill Self has thrived with in the past: A face-up four that can make shots on the perimeter but is at his best from 15 feet and in. As a sophomore with Memphis in 2016-17, Lawson averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 boards, 3.3 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals. He is not going to put up those numbers at Kansas while playing in the Big 12, but he might not be all that far off.

LUKE MAYE, North Carolina

Maye might just be the best returning player in all of college basketball, which is not something that I ever envisioned myself saying. After hitting the game-winning jumper to send North Carolina past Kentucky and into the Final Four in 2017, the year the Tar Heels won the national title, Maye ended up having an All-American season as a junior, averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 boards while shooting 43.1 percent from three.

Tyus Battle (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Quite possibly the best shooter in all of college basketball. As a freshman, he shot 54.7 percent from three on 4.8 attempts per game. As a sophomore, he shot 40.4 percent from three while shooting more than eight threes per game while spending more time on the ball. He’s missed 14 free throws in two seasons. And, coming off of a year where he averaged 20.4 points while ceding lead guard duties to Andrew Rowsey, Howard will now be the centerpiece of what Marquette does offensively. He, and Marquette as a team, might just score enough points to overcome the fact that they can’t guard a team of out-of-shape dads.

TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse

Battle’s efficiency numbers went in the tank as a sophomore thanks to the fact that he played on a team with no floor spacing and even less help for him in halfcourt offensive settings. But the Orange, who finished as one of the nation’s top five defenses and add some offensive weapons to a team that returns everyone, including Oshae Brissett, Battle should be more effective this year. He could average 20 points on a top 15 team.

CALEB MARTIN, Nevada

Martin averaged 18.9 points and shot 40.3 percent from three as a junior at Nevada while leading the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 despite the fact that he played the second half of the season with a foot injury that was initially thought to be season-ending. He’s in line for a massive season on one of the best teams in the country.

GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Did you know that Tennessee is the reigning SEC regular season champion? Did you know that Williams is the reigning SEC Player of the Year? If you did, then you shouldn’t be surprised to see the 6-foot-7 junior listed here. He averaged 15.2 points and 6.0 boards as a sophomore.

ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Williamson is an absolute freak of nature athletically. We all already knew that. The reason Williamson is slotted this high on our All-American teams is that he is far more skilled than he gets credit for. While Duke was in Canada playing their exhibition games in August, Williamson was unstoppable. I am much more bullish on him now than I was at the start of the summer.

Eric Paschall (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

TREMONT WATERS, LSU

Waters is in line to be this year’s Trae Young. He averaged 15.9 points and 6.0 assists as a freshman for an LSU team that wasn’t overloaded with talent.

SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s

Ponds had some monstrous performances for the Johnnies in big games last season — including a stretch where he averaged 31.5 points an 5.0 assists during a four-game winning streak against Duke, at Villanova, Marquette and at DePaul. Can the Johnies be better this season than they were last?

ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

With everything that the Wildcats lost this past offseason, Paschall is going to have a chance to showcase what he can do offensively. People forget he scored a ton of points as a freshman. Paschall is going to be a first round pick.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

For my money, Hunter is Virginia’s best and most important player, but I am concerned that his production can get stymied by A) playing in Virginia’s system and B) being forced to play out of position. He’s at his best if he can be a mismatch four. Depth issues might force Virginia to play him at the three.

ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Happ was an All-American after his sophomore year and a preseason All-American heading into his junior season. And now, as a senior, his Wisconsin team looks primed to have a bounceback year.

De’Andre Hunter (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

FOURTH TEAM ALL-AMERICA

KYLE GUY, Virginia

Guy will play the role that was populated by Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon. He would probably be higher on this list if he was a better defender.

KELLAN GRADY, Davidson

Grady is the next superstar at Davidson, although he ceiling looks closer to that of Jack Gibbs than that of Stephen Curry.

NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

Little is a tremendous athlete that is going to give the Tar Heels some lineup flexibility, but he may still actually be a better prospect than player at this point.

P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

Picking a player from Kentucky for this is difficult, as the Wildcats have a handful of options, a ton of depth and no real clarity on what their starting lineup and rotation will be. But after the week he had in the Bahamas, Washington is a pretty good bet to be Kentucky’s best player this season.

DEAN WADE, Kansas State

Wade, a 6-foot-10 perimeter forward, was Kansas State’s best player last season, and he didn’t even play in their NCAA tournament Elite 8 run.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

KY BOWMAN, Boston College
MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State
ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
CAM REDDISH, Duke
KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga
REID TRAVIS, Kentucky
NICK WARD, Michigan State