Film Session: A breakdown of Okafor-vs.-Kaminsky, Duke-Wisconsin’s key matchup

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AP

There may not be a better game all season long than the battle between No. 4 Duke and No. 2 Wisconsin that will take place in Madison on Wednesday evening.

It’s not difficult to figure out why. The Blue Devils and the Badgers are both currently sitting in the top three of the NBCSports.com Top 25 largely because you may not find two better offensive teams in the country. Some teams will score more points than the Badgers because of their style of play, but no one runs better sets and, by the time the season is all said and done, there may not be a more efficient team than Wisconsin. Duke? They have as much firepower on that end of the floor as anyone.

And that’s really all you need to make a college basketball game held in December must-see TV, but it gets even better. Duke and Wisconsin feature the nation’s two best players, two guys that play the same position, are from the same area and just so happen to be the focal point for those powerhouse offensive attacks. One of them, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, is a senior that came out of nowhere to become an all-american. The other is a freshman, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, that has been pegged as a superstar since he hit the high school ranks.

It does not get any better than this.

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Okafor and Kaminsky may play the same position and are both be labeled as offensively skilled, but the way that they play is not all that similar.

And therein lies the most intriguing part of this matchup.

Okafor is one of the most skilled low-post scorers I’ve ever seen come through the college ranks. We talk about upside and ceiling all the time when it comes to basketball prospects, and Okafor’s ceiling is the next Tim Duncan. He needs to become a better out-of-his-area rebounder and he’s still learning how to defend and use his size to overpower defenders, but when you combine the fact that he’s 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds with nimble feet, a soft touch around the rim and an exquisite ability to pass out of the post, what you’re left with is a guy that is almost impossible to game-plan for.

In his first game against high-major competition, Okafor had 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting in a 77-63 win over No. 19 Michigan State. The Spartans began the game allowing their big men — Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello — to go one-on-one against Okafor in the post, and it wasn’t pretty. He scored eight of Duke’s first 14 points, assisting on one bucket and creating a dunk for Amile Jefferson with his passing out of the post on another possession.

Michigan State mixed up their defenses later in the game, which helped slow down Okafor but which also created mismatches elsewhere on the floor. The problem with defending Duke is that they can surround Okafor with a lineup where they have four players with three-point range that are capable of scoring 20 points on a given night. Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones, Grayson Allen. All of those guys can hit open threes, can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and will make the next pass if their teammate has a better look.

And Okafor?

He’s able to find the guys that are left open when defenses collapse around him.

When the Blue Devils played Stanford, Johnny Dawkins started the game by putting 6-foot-8 Reid Travis — a guy that was recruited by BCS schools to be a football player — on Okafor and 7-footer Stefan Nastic on Jefferson. The Cardinal would double Okafor on the catch, which did not work out at all for Stanford.

Here are two examples of what I mean. In the first, you can see Okafor (red circle) getting double-teamed. Jefferson (green circle) is left all alone until the basket, and Okafor found him for a dunk:

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

In this next example, Okafor (red) is trapped in what looks like a bad spot on the baseline, but Tyus Jones (green) is all alone in the corner on the other side of the floor. Okafor sees him, and while he doesn’t get the assist, Duke ended up getting a dunk on the play as the ball was moved and the Stanford defense broke down:

source:
Screengrab vis Synergy

What Stanford did in the second half was to allow Nastic to try and defend Okafor one-on-one, and given Nastic’s size, that was as effective as any defense that Okafor has seen this season.

I expect Wisconsin to do the same on Wednesday night.

Kaminsky is a 7-footer. He’s just as big and just as strong as Okafor. He’s not quite as good as Nastic is on the defensive end of the floor, but his size will give Okafor trouble as the freshman hasn’t quite figured out how to bully players his own size. It’s the same way that the Badgers defended Josh Smith last week when they beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Add in the fact that Okafor does not draw a lot of fouls — he’s gone to the line 23 times in seven games, nine of them coming against Army — and Bo Ryan doesn’t have to be all that concerned about his all-american getting into foul trouble.

What will be more interesting is how Wisconsin decides to defend Jefferson, but I’ll come back to that in a second.

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The way Wisconsin utilizes Kaminsky is much different from what Duke does with Okafor. Kaminsky is a talented low-post scorer, but what makes him so dangerous is his perimeter ability. Kaminsky was a guard for most of his life, but he hit a late growth-spurt that sent him up to 7-foot without doing any damage to his coordination or ball skills.

He can hit threes and he can put the ball on the floor and he can do things like this, and that opens up a bevy of options for Ryan, who has, since his Division III days, believed that the toughest thing to stop is a bigger player going one-on-one in the post. What he does better than anyone in the country is something called inverting the offense, which is a simple concept, really: He has his big men throwing entry passes to his perimeter players that are posting up. He’s able to do this because he always has skilled big men with three point range.

And in this matchup, the Badgers will have a size advantage at almost every position on the floor outside of Kaminsky, particularly on the perimeter. Sam Dekker is 6-foot-9 and he’ll likely be guarded by 6-foot-7 Justise Winslow, if not someone smaller. Josh Gasser is 6-foot-3 and will have one of Duke’s two point guards on him. Nigel Hayes is stronger than Jefferson, and may end up being guarded by Winslow quite a bit as well.

Regardless of what the matchups are, what we do know is that Kaminsky will be allowed to be the guy that spreads the floor for the Badgers, putting Okafor, who has a reputation for being an average, at best, defender, in a difficult position.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Trae Jackson (green), Wisconsin’s point guard, is the player posting up with four Oklahoma defenders surrounding him. Kaminsky (red) is wide open at the top of the key:

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

The end result?

Three-ball for Kaminsky.

This is not an uncommon occurrence, either. If you read Luke Winn’s Power Rankings, you would know that all of Kaminsky’s three attempts are coming from the right wing or the top of the key. The reason for this? The sets that Wisconsin run to invert their offense all involve a back-screen for a player on the opposite wing who comes in behind the defense …

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

… and posts up on the left block. To spread the floor, Kaminsky will either be at the top of the key or at the opposite wing:

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

All of this brings me back to Amile Jefferson.

Jefferson is a 6-foot-8 forward that can defend in the post, meaning he is the ideal guy for Duke to have on the floor to deal with Hayes, who is one of the most improved players in the country. That would allow Justise Winslow to slide over and cover Dekker at the small forward spot, but it would also mean that Duke would then have two guys on the floor offensively that can be helped off of.

Teams do not even need to guard Jefferson 12 feet from the rim. When Stanford doubled Okafor, they doubled off of Jefferson every single time. Winslow is an improving shooter, but he’s not to the point where he cannot be helped off of.

Which creates a conundrum for Mike Krzyzewski.

With Jefferson on the floor, it allows him to defend Bo Ryan — and how he uses Kaminsky — better. But at the same time, it makes it that much easier for Ryan to double-team Okafor and force the ball out of his hands.

It’s fascinating.

In a matchup with this much hype and talent and coaching acumen, the x-factor is a guy who takes five shots a night.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.