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Should we be worried about Virginia after last night’s loss?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Virginia is the two-time defending ACC regular season champions, and they’ve done it on the strength of a defensive system that is as difficult to score on as any in the country.

The Pack-Line. It’s a defense that Dick Bennett made famous and a defense that his son, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, currently runs as effectively as any program in the country. Last season, the Wahoos finished first nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, better than Kentucky, who many believed had one of the best defensive teams of all time.

The only time that Virginia gave up more than 72 points in a game last season came in a double-overtime win at Miami. Only five times all season long did they give up more than 65 points. When they played George Washington last season, the Colonials managed all of 42 points. Part of that is due to the pace at which Virginia plays, but KenPom’s rankings are pace-adjusted.

Slow or not, Virginia had the most ruthlessly efficient per-possession defense in the sport last season.

RELATED: Kevin Larsen’s worst career game helped GW beat UVA.

That should tell you just how impressive it is, then, that GW was not only able to beat Virginia on Monday night — the Cavs went 30-4 last season and have 11 losses the last two years combined — but that they did so by scoring 73 points in a 68-possession game. Once the Colonials worked through their nerves on the first three or four possessions of the game, they seemed downright comfortable functioning against what’s supposed to be one of the best defenses in the sport.

“We got outplayed and out-executed,” Bennett said after the game. “Who are we and how do we have to play? Sometimes we forget, in these settings, just how tough it is.”

I have a few thoughts on what UVA did on Monday night and their outlook moving forward:

MORE: What is the Pack-Line defense and why is it so successful?

1. Fouls: Virginia is going to have to make some adjustments with the way that they play defense this season. The emphasis is on freedom of movement. You can’t put your hands on a driver. You can’t use your body to change the direction of their penetration. Ticky-tack fouls are going to get called all season long, just like they did on Monday night. GW shot 28 free throws. Darius Thompson, who is supposed to be Justin Anderson’s replacement as a defensive-stopper, fouled out in 23 minutes. Anthony Gill had four fouls. The ‘Hoos were clearly frustrated last night at the tight whistle — late in the second half, GW was able to get to the rim on repeated straight-line drives, something you never, ever see against UVA — and it doesn’t seem like that is going to change this season.

“I’ve got to get a feel for that,” Bennett said. “It is different. Everyone has to adjust to how they call it, and we gotta learn how they’ll call it.”

2. Slow rotations came back to bite them: The most impressive thing that GW was able to do on Monday night was force Virginia to change one of their defensive principles. UVA always uses big-to-big doubles on the catch on post touches to eliminate a low-post presence. Always. But Kevin Larsen eviscerated those traps, picking up four first-half assists. He made some beautiful passes, but Virginia’s defense was a step slow rotating on the weak-side. Credit GW for making the play, but those are plays that Virginia believes they should have been able to stop.

“When we went to trap [Larsen] was playing to pass,” Bennett said. GW head coach Mike Lonergan confirmed later that they “wanted Kevin to get double-teamed” because of how good he is passing the ball. “We just were out of our positions. We hung on too long. We know we’re supposed to scramble back and we were rusty. That cost us today.”

3. Losing Justin Anderson hurts: His ability as a perimeter defender was awesome. He’s 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and an elite-level athlete. Darius Thompson, his replacement, is listed at 6-foot-4, 196 pounds. Virginia certainly misses that defensively, but they also miss his perimeter shooting. He was burying threes at a near-50 percent clip when he was hurt last season. On Monday, the ‘Hoos were 5-for-20 from beyond the arc, many of their misses being good, clean looks at the rim.

4. But losing Darian Atkins hurt more: Anderson got all the press because he was hurt last season, his injury coincided with Virginia’s fall from title contender to a second round exit and he was a first round pick in the NBA Draft. But talk to any coach that had to put together a game-plan against UVA, and they’ll tell you that Atkins was, unequivocally, Virginia’s best defender last season.

“Atkins was their anchor,” said one coach who put together a scout on Virginia last season. “He was so good at the little things that people don’t notice. Curl protecting. Showing on the screen and giving the guard an extra second to get back. He’s so active, talkative. It was like they had six men on the court. And he protected the rim.”

“That dude … that dude was special.”

Mike Tobey is the guy that has replaced Atkins at the five this season, and while he is a load on the offensive end of the floor — he had 10 points and seven boards last night, scoring on a series of nice post moves and even burying a three — he’s not even close to being the same kind of defender that Atkins was. At one point in the second half, when Virginia stopped doubling Larsen in the post, GW made the decision to starting attacking Tobey. That was their advantage, and it worked.

5. GW is good: More than anything, that’s the takeaway that I have after watching this game courtside. They may be the best team in the Atlantic 10, and I would be shocked if they didn’t start picking up votes for the top 25 next week. Virginia clearly has some things to work through and are still trying to find a way to replace the pieces they lost last season, but this was a road game on the fourth day of the season against a well-coached, veteran, borderline top 25 playing in front of an absolutely raucous crowd. This was equivalent to losing a road game against a top-half-of-the-ACC program.

There’s no shame in that for Virginia. In fact, we should all be heaping praise on Tony Bennett for being willing to test his team on the road this early in the season.

 

High school basketball player collapses, dies at AAU event

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James Hampton, a member of Team United and a senior at Liberty Heights, a private high school in Charlotte, collapsed and died during a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League game on Saturday night.

Hampton was 17 years old.

In the second half of a game against Nike Phamily, a Phoenix-based program that is run by the father of Marvin Bagley III, Hampton collapsed to the floor unresponsive. Trainers at the event began CPR on and administered chest compressions. Parademics arrived within 10 minutes, but Hampton could not be revived.

The cause of death has not yet been released, but this is not the first time that Hampton had an issue. Last spring, at an event in the Washington D.C. area, Hampton collapsed on the court and had to be given CPR.

“He just fell down on the floor,” Team United director Jacoby Davis told the Charlotte Observer. “He had seizures a year ago and I remember (one of the Team United coaches) telling me that, ‘I saw his eyes rolling back in his head.’ I ran on the court thinking he was having a seizure. A trainer came over and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Another trainer checked his pulse. He said he didn’t have a pulse. It got crazy after that.”

RIP James Hampton.

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.