If Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook continue to co-exist, Duke will be tough to contain

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source: AP
AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Entering the 2014-15 season, it was known throughout college basketball that Duke would rely heavily on its talented incoming freshmen.

But the unanswered question remained how Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski would handle his dueling point guards in senior Quinn Cook and freshman Tyus Jones? The 6-foot-2 Cook had a bevy of experience and started 22 games last season, but his inconsistent play at the end of the campaign made it seem as though a position battle was brewing. And although the 6-foot-1 Jones entered Durham as a highly-touted, slick-passing floor leader with a solid jump shot, questions about his ability to defend at the college level didn’t make him a definitive starter like a few of his fellow freshmen.

So far this season, though, Cook and Jones have both started, and thrived, in the same backcourt during Duke’s 3-0 start. Monday night’s combined effort against Michigan State in the Champions Classic was particularly noteworthy. The duo put up 36 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers in the Blue Devils’ 81-71 win over the Spartans. They were also efficient as shooters, combining to go 11-for-17 from the field and 5-for-7 from three-point range

After the game, Coach K had plenty of praise for the two McDonald’s All-American point guards that helped Duke maintain a comfortable lead despite foul trouble to freshman center Jahlil Okafor and an illness to reserve guard Rasheed Sulaimon.

“Quinn’s presence was really, really big for us,” Krzyzewski said. “He and Tyus have really developed a great relationship and I thought Tyus took off in the second half. You get 36 points from the two of them; ten assists, no turnovers, good defense.”

It wasn’t always supposed to be this easy of a decision. In the preseason, it looked like Jones was winning the “battle” over Cook after the freshman started both preseason games and Cook came off the bench. But the two point guard look has given Duke a major lift in its starting line-up.

Having two steady ball handlers is a nice perk for Duke’s offense, but Cook also looks very comfortable as a spot-up shooter off of feeds from Jones and the freshman is also enough of a threat as a perimeter shooter to space the floor if Cook takes the ball up himself.

The duo is also showing a tremendous amount of poise and leadership under pressure. When Okafor went down with his fourth foul of the game with 8:54 left in the second half against Michigan State, it was Jones who stepped up and hit the big four-point play a minute later to push the Duke lead back to double digits.

Jones spent much of the first 30 minutes of the game deferring on offense and setting up his teammates, but he and Cook became leaders for a unit that would not wilt without its star big man.

“I was proud of Tyus, personally, not scoring the ball and trying to get everyone involved in the first half. He took his shots with confidence and he played big for us,” Cook said. “When Jah went out with the fourth foul, we didn’t panic, we came together. We wanted to get some rebounds because we were smaller out there and everybody stepped up.”

That kind of leadership was lacking at times for Duke last season. If Jabari Parker or Rodney Hood struggled to make plays, it was difficult to identify a consistent third option that would step up in key moments. But with Okafor off the floor against Michigan State, Cook and Jones helped Duke keep its head above water.

The praise from Jones about his “big brother both on and off the court” was high on Monday night as the two point guards sat together smiling in the press conference after the Champions Classic win.

“He’ll pull me aside on the court and tell me to look for something different or to try to approach things a different way. But at the same time, he’s given me confidence by telling me to believe in myself because he knows what I can do on the court,” Jones said of Cook. “He welcomed me with open arms and it’s been really easy to adjust.”

Cook’s selfless attitude and “off-the-charts leadership,” as Krzyzewski put it, is making a huge difference for Duke this season because it’s allowing Jones to stay comfortable playing his own game while also letting Cook be effective with his strengths. The two are meshing well together and Duke’s offense is limiting turnovers and shooting high percentages.

The immediate need for Okafor was fairly obvious. The Blue Devils had a tough time rebounding, getting stops at the rim and achieving positive post touches on offense in 2013-14, so the No. 1 incoming freshman in the country entering the starting line-up was a foregone conclusion. Losing Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to the 2014 NBA Draft meant Krzyzewski had a need for a scoring wing who could play both sides of the floor so the starting line-up also had a hole that freshman Justise Winslow fit nicely.

But who could have predicted the tremendous lift that this new backcourt would be giving Duke? Krzyzewski could have opted to go with Option 1A or 1B as the starting point guard but the unexpected Option C is working out fine. Okafor and Winslow are looking like the new go-to guys to replace Parker and Hood this season but the combination of Jones and Cook is giving the Blue Devils a much more reliable third option than last season while also limiting turnovers and spacing the floor around Okafor.

Questions will continue to arise if Cook and Jones can defend a high-scoring backcourt featuring a bigger guard, but for now, the Blue Devils are happy to have steady leadership, an efficient offense and a more hopeful outlook on the future after last season’s embarrassing early exit.

Former LSU coach Johnny Jones hired by Texas Southern

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Johnny Jones is in charge of a college basketball program once again.

The former North Texas and LSU head coach will be the next head coach at Texas Southern, replacing Mike Davis, who left to take over at Detroit.

“I’m really excited about it,” Jones told Fox 26 in Houston. “This is a terrific opportunity with a great university in a great city.”

Jones went 90-72 in five seasons in Baton Rouge, but finished his final year, the 2016-17 season, with just a 10-21 record. He’s best-known for failing to get to the NCAA tournament with a team that featured Ben Simmons.

Coach K: ‘I have no plans to retire’

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the greatest college basketball coach this side of John Wooden, said on Monday that he has given on thought to the idea of when he will call it quits.

“I have no plans to retire,” Krzyzewski said on the College Hoops Today Podcast. “I feel better than I have in a long time. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. There’s no end in sight.”

The question of whether or not Coach K will be around all that much longer has been something that has lingered over the sport given the numerous health issues that he has dealt with in recent years. He’s undergone surgery six times in the last two years and, at 71 years old, is at an age where most everyone is hoping to retire while working one of the most strenuous and time-consuming jobs imaginable.

Put another way, no one would blame Krzyzewski if he wanted to hang it up.

But instead, he is arguably at the top of his game. He’s churned out elite recruiting classes in each of the last four seasons, he’s won two National Titles in the last eight seasons and he has three of the nation’s top five prospects enrolling for the 2018-19 season.

He’s not slowing down.

So why would he thinking about leaving the game?

VIDEO: Mixtape for Duke commit R.J. Barrett, potential 2019 No. 1 pick

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Last week, after the NBA draft officially concluded, we posted a mock draft for the lottery in 2019.

At the top of that list was R.J. Barrett, a Duke-commit and Canadian-native that has NBA scouts wowed and intrigued. This mixtape should give you a good feel for why.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.