Film Session: How Duke took away Marcus Paige and Jerian Grant

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The questions about whether or not Duke is truly a national title contender began to pop up early on in ACC play, when the Blue Devils got smacked around in back-to-back games games N.C. State and Miami, the latter at home.

The concern?

The perimeter defense of the Blue Devils. Trevor Lacey and Angel Rodriguez torched the Blue Devils so badly that head coach Mike Krzyzewski was forced to go zone against Louisville, a move surprising enough that it caught the Cardinals off-guard and allowed the Blue Devils to pick up an impressive road win.

But one game didn’t solve the issue of Duke’s ability to defender talented playmakers and ball-screen actions, and that became far too obvious a couple of weeks later, when Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant played his best game of the season, taking over down the stretch as the Irish erased a 10 point deficit in the final eight minutes of a 77-73 win.

That loss feels like decades ago, as Duke has since reeled off six straight wins, going into Charlottesville and handing Virginia their only loss of the season, beating Syracuse on the road and, on Wednesday night, knocking off North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

What’s perhaps more impressive is that in three of their last four games, Duke has been able to completely take away an opponent’s talented lead guard. In the rematch in Durham, Grant had seven points on 3-for-10 shooting as the Irish lost by 30. In a three-point Duke win at Florida State, Xavier Rathan-Mayes finished with five points and six turnovers on 2-for-7 shooting. And in the win over UNC, Marcus Paige had just five points and shot 2-for-11 from the floor.

How has Duke been able to transform from a team that couldn’t stop any star guard to one that shuts down All-Americans?

The credit belongs to Quinn Cook, who has taken on the role of defensive stopper for the Blue Devils.

In each of those three games, Mike Krzyzewski had Cook face-guard the opponents’ star guard for 40 minutes. If they brought the ball up the floor, Cook was un their jock as soon as they passed the ball and initiated offense. If they played off the ball, he was denying the catch as soon as they crossed half court. Watch him defend Grant on this possession:

It was the same thing for Paige last night.

Here’s an example from the first half, where North Carolina tried to free their star up by running him off of a series of screens along the baseline. Cook got hung up on one of them, but he called for a switch with Matt Jones, who took over denying Paige and preventing from getting a look coming off of that screen:

Now compare that with how easy it was for Jerian Grant to receive the ball here:

That kind of denial defense does have repercussions, however, as it creates quite a bit of space in the middle of the floor. North Carolina was able to capitalize, with Nate Britt, Joel Berry and J.P. Tokoto breaking down the defense off the bounce, creating opportunities for their big men with drop-off passes, one-on-one opportunities in the post and the chance to pound the offensive glass.

North Carolina didn’t get a single offensive rebound in the first 11:37 of the game. Over the course of the next 33 minutes, they grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second-chance points. Their big men — Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Joel James — combined for 54 points and 27 boards on 23-for-33 shooting.

To be fair, part of that was the result of Okafor, who is a below-average defender when he is healthy, being slowed by an ankle injury that he suffered in the first half.

But not all of it.

Here’s my favorite example of what I mean. In the first clip, you’ll see Paige setting a back-screen for Hicks. Cook is hugging Paige, leaving Hicks wide-open to catch a lob for a dunk. In the second, you’ll see Tokoto set a back-screen. Matt Jones is guarding him and is able sink towards the rim and takeaway the pass:

The Blue Devils still have their issues defensively. They’re not great defending ball-screens, their perimeter defenders are, individually, mediocre on-the-ball. Okafor is a long way away from being Anthony Davis or Tyson Chandler.

But Krzyzewski has proven why he’s one of the greatest to ever grace the sideline this season, as he’s been able to put together a defensive schemes that have put his guys in a position to win.

He did it at Louisville. He did in against Notre Dame. And last night, he did it again against North Carolina.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.