No. 2 Syracuse beats No. 17 Duke in the Game of the Year

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“We’ve had a lot of games in here that have been great, but there’s never been a game as good as this one.”

That’s what Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told Shannon Spake after the No. 2 Orange knocked off No. 17 Duke, which is a strong statement but one that Boeheim could very well be correct about. The hype entering this game was out of control — the two winningest college basketball coaches of all time, two storied programs playing their first game as ACC rivals, 35,446 fans in the Dome, I could go on and on and on —  but this was one of the rare occasions where the game was as good as the pregame show.

C.J. Fair led the way for the Orange, finishing with 28 points, while Jerami Grant added 24 points and 12 boards as Syracuse overwhelmed the smaller Blue Devils in the paint. But Duke countered, hitting 15 threes, pounding the offensive glass and putting five players in double figures.

And it played out to perfection.

The Orange would make a run pounding the ball into the paint. Duke would respond by hitting a couple of threes to get back into the game. Back and forth, over and over again, with the most notable stretch being the trio of second half three-pointers that Tyler Thornton hit on consecutive possessions to keep Duke within striking distance as Syracuse looked ready to pull away.

The crescendo came at the end of regulation, when Rasheed Sulaimon, who finished with 16 points and seven assists, went the length of the court to hit a three and force overtime:

The Orange would go on to win in overtime, the beneficiary of a somewhat friendly whistle down the stretch that allowed them to remain undefeated, but someone had to end up losing this game.

Focusing strictly on who ended up winning this game would belie a bigger point: what we saw at the Carrier Dome on Saturday was two teams capable of making the Final Four in Arlington playing about as well as they can play.

For the Orange, that meant feasting on the mismatches that get created when Fair and Grant are on the court together. Fair inparticular. He is the prototype combo-forward at the college basketball level. He’s a face-up scorer that’s big enough to score in the post, athletic enough to get his shot off against anyone and comfortable enough on the perimeter to cross a defender over and hit a pull-up jumper in his face. We saw his full arsenal on Saturday, and it was nothing short of impressive. The same can be said for Tyler Ennis, whose 14 points and nine assists were as unnoticeably sensational as always.

On the other side of the ball, the undersized Blue Devils scrapped for everything inch they could get. Whether it was the 14 points, seven boards (six offensive) and five assists from Amile Jefferson or the relentless of Jabari Parker attacking the rim despite getting swatted five or six times, the Blue Devils weren’t intimidated by the longer wingspans and bigger verticals of the Orange. At the end of the day, they fought hard enough that their 15 threes buoyed them, which is more or less what the goal for this Duke team has been all season long.

In the end, it all came down to one play: Rodney Hood driving the lane, down one with 15 seconds left, going up to try to dunk over Rakeem Christmas. Did he get fouled? Was it a clean block? We can debate it all day long, but the refs didn’t blow their whistle and the Orange escaped.

They head into the season’s stretch run without a blemish on their record. Duke sits three games back in the ACC standings but ahead of where they were at the start of the day — miles ahead of where they were at the start of the week — in the eyes of anyone with a semblance of basketball intellect.

The best news of all?

We get to do it all over again in three weeks, this time at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Good luck trying to get a ticket to that game.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.

Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. returning to school

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Nebraska received some important news on Friday night as senior guard James Palmer Jr. will be back for next season.

The 6-foot-6 Palmer had tested the NBA draft waters, but he decided to return to the Cornhuskers. After putting up 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season, Palmer is expected to be an All-Big Ten candidate once again this season. Palmer shot 44 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range last season.

After transferring in from Miami, Palmer became the Huskers’ go-to scorer last season in helping Nebraska to a 22-win season and NIT appearance.

With Palmer back, Nebraska will have some legitimate expectations for the upcoming season, especially if the team’s second-leading scorer, Isaac Copeland Jr., also returns from the NBA draft process.