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College Hoops Contender Series: Duke is the most talented team in the country … sound familiar?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

After deep dives into Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and Michigan State, we finish it up with the Duke Blue Devils.

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Grayson Allen (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

Duke is the most talented team in college basketball.

Forget, for a second, how old these kids are, the way that the roster fits together or whether or not there is enough shooting on this team to keep the floor spaced.

When talking purely about talent, Duke is step above anyone else in the sport.

It starts with Marvin Bagley III, who may just end up being the National Player of the Year and the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

And then there is Grayson Allen. Love him or hate him, these three things are facts:

  1. Allen was a second-team all-american as a sophomore.
  2. Prior to his junior season, a year that Allen spent battling foot and ankle injuries, he was picked by the majority of the outlets that do these things as the Preseason National Player of the Year.
  3. He’s healthy now.

There’s more.

Trevon Duval, a projected lottery pick, is the top-ranked point guard in the Class of 2017. Wendell Carter, who is also projected to go in the lottery, was the top power forward in the class until Bagley joined the class. Gary Trent Jr., another potential first round pick, was the second-best shooting guard in the class. Off the bench, there is former five-star recruit Marques Bolden along with a trio of former four-star prospects.

Mike Krzyzewski has won national titles with less.

And if games were played on paper, he would probably win a national title this season.

But, as we learned last season with this very same Duke team, the games are not played on paper.

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Marvin Bagley III (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

The biggest question mark, the one that has made it so difficult for so many teams in the one-and-done era to win with a roster based entirely on freshmen, is just how much youth is on this roster.

Four of the five starters are going to be freshmen. The four bench players that seemed destined to fill out the rotation are either freshmen or sophomores that barely saw any action as freshmen. The only true veteran on the roster is Grayson Allen, and if we’ve learned anything over the course of his collegiate career, it’s that there are valid reasons to wonder whether he is the kind of leader that the Blue Devils will need.

And, as always, there are going to be questions about role allocation, particularly on a roster with this much talent on it. Marques Bolden wasn’t thrilled about coming off the bench last season, contemplated a transfer this offseason and then returned to Duke thinking that he would be the starting center for the Blue Devils this year. Wendell Carter committed to Duke under the pretense that he would be slotted in as the four in Duke’s lineup, allowing him to play away from the basket more than on the block.

Then Marvin Bagley III decided he would be going to Duke.

Suddenly, those plans have changed.

Carter and Bolden are going to be competing for the right to start at center for the Blue Devils, because Bagley will be starting at the four. He is a perfect fit there. Not only can he step out and play on the perimeter, allowing Duke to continue using the four-around-one offense that has been so effective in each of the last four years, but he’ll make them infinitely better defensively than they were with Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram or Jabari Parker in that role.

What that means is that either Bolden or Carter is going to be playing a different role than they expected this season; hell, they both might end up there.

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Wendell Carter (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

And that’s before you consider the shots that Bagley is going to get.

There were already going to be players sacrificing shots somewhere on this roster, whether it was Grayson Allen, Gary Trent or Trevon Duval, and I fully expect Bagley to now end up as Duke’s leading scorer.

Someone is going to have to make a sacrifice, and it’s not always easy to get guys to think that is a good idea.

But the biggest question mark facing the Blue Devils this season is the same question mark they’ve dealt with over the course of the last two years: Does Duke have the point guard they need on their roster?

On the one hand, the answer is pretty obvious. Duval is a potential lottery pick. He’s the top point guard in the Class of 2017 and one of the top five prospects in a class that has at least three guys every NBA team is going to be tanking to try and draft. He’s 6-foot-3, he’s incredibly athletic and he’s a talent when he can get going downhill, attacking the rim.

On paper, that’s a tremendous addition.

The problem is that Duval is a score-first slasher with an unreliable jumper on a team that is going to have some issues spacing the floor and is crying out for a facilitator at the point. This team needs Tyus Jones, and what they added is Derrick Rose. That could end up being a good thing — Rose was the No. 1 pick after he averaged 14.9 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 boards while shooting 34 percent from three for a Memphis team that would have won the national title if he could make free throws. But that Rose’s team. Chris Douglas-Roberts may have been the leading scorer and Joey Dorsey may have been the heart and soul of the group, but what they did was built around what Rose was able to do with the ball in his hands.

Duval may play like Rose, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be as good as Rose.

And if he doesn’t have an offense suited to his skill set, it’s fair to wonder just how valuable he will be in that position.

What Duke needs from their point guard is a player that can get them into an offense, distribute the ball and make a play when the shot clock is winding down. Frank Jackson wasn’t that guy. Derryck Thornton wasn’t that guy.

Is Duval?


Trevon Duval (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

PREDICTION

Duke is going to be very good, just like they were last season.

I know people don’t want to hear that, but the fact of the matter is that Duke finished last year as the ACC tournament champion, earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament with a valid argument to be the fourth No. 1 seed despite having a roller coaster of a season that involved four of their stars and their Hall of Fame head coach miss significant time with injuries.

At the very least, this season will be a smoother ride because I’m not sure it’s possible for a season to be more difficult than the one Duke had in 2016-17.

So what will that turn into?

I think it’s as simple as this: If Trevon Duval turns into a top 15 point guard in the sport, then I think the Blue Devils win the ACC regular season title and enter the NCAA tournament as one of, if not the favorite to win the whole thing. They’re better defensively than they’ve been in some time, and they should be able to overwhelm teams with their talent.

But if Duval struggles, if Duke spends the season trying to figure out an answer to their point guard situation, then I would not be surprised to see a repeat of last season — questionable losses sprinkled in amongst impressive wins, inconsistency night-to-night and a number of people willing to overlook it and pick Duke to win the national title on Selection Sunday anyway.

Thursday’s Things to Know: Struggles continue for Pac-12, Georgetown picks up a big win and a wedgie rescues Notre Dame

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There weren’t any matchups between top-25 teams Thursday night, with the main November events still a week away, but there is plenty to discuss from around the country. Here’s what you need to know.

Another rough night for the Pac-12

It’s rather amazing how poor the Pac-12 continues to perform. The league managed to get just three teams into the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years. But things have been pretty dire since the league expanded ahead of the 2011-12 season. That year the league’s regular-season champion, Washington, didn’t even make the tournament, though Cal (a 12 seed) and Colorado (11) did. That’s it.

Things have, admittedly, improved since then, but that was really the only direction to head, right? Only three times in the last eight years has the conference gotten more than four teams into the tournament. The Pac-12, which as a reminder is a Power 5 conference, has only been ranked as a top-five conference nationally on KenPom three times in the last eight years.

There isn’t much in the way of expectation for the league this season, certainly past the quartet of Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and Washington. Still, though, nights like Thursday are difficult to watch.

It was an awful evening for the Pac-12, with Washington State blowing a 15-point lead at home in an eventual 85-77 loss to Omaha of the Summit League, Utah getting blasted 79-55 by the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Classic and Cal getting demolished by top-ranked Duke, 87-52. Arizona was the bright spot of the night, and the Wildcats needed to overcome a halftime deficit to beat South Dakota State in Tucson.

Obviously, none of those three teams which lost Thursday were expected to carry the Pac-12 banner this season and 12-team leagues are going to inevitably have some bad teams every season, but, my goodness, is there a better distillation of the overall health of the league’s basketball than a night like this?

Cal was miles away from being able to compete with the Blue Devils while both the Cougars and Utes couldn’t even hang with teams from so-so mid-major conferences. It’s a league whose best teams can compete against the country’s best, but has almost no meaningful depth beyond that thin upper crust.

The Pac-12 has had just one Final Four team since its expansion, with Oregon getting there in 2017. That ties the conference with the Missouri Valley over that same period. Some of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the vast majority of the Pac-12 is no good, it makes building an NCAA resume for its good teams more difficult, leaving them with more difficult NCAA tournament paths. Maybe that changes this year if undefeated starts for USC, Stanford and UCLA signal an improving middle class. Thursday’s results don’t signal good times on the horizon, though.

It’s just all around ugly for the Pac-12.

It’s bad news for people who like to stay up late watching west coast basketball, but it’s really bad news for a league whose genuine tradition slides further and further into memory with each passing season.

Georgetown lands a top-25 win

The first two years of the Patrick Ewing era at Georgetown have been encouraging, with the Hoyas improving both their overall and Big East win totals by four in Year 2 of the Hall of Famer’s return to his alma mater. It wasn’t enough to get the Hoyas even on to the NCAA bubble last year, though, thanks in part to a horribly weak non-conference schedule.

The Hoyas beefed up their early-season schedule this season, and just saw the first fruits of the decision.

Georgetown ran away from No. 22 Texas in an 82-66 victory at Madison Square Garden to land a potentially resume-booster four months before Selection Sunday.

Ewing has an interesting and talented team with the backcourt duo of James Akinjo and Mac McClung back for sophomore seasons and big man Omer Yurtseven eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from NC State. Testing this group early is only going to pay dividends in the long-run.

Ewing’s first non-conference schedule was ranked 351st by KenPom and last year’s was only marginally better at 292. Now, the Hoyas have already faced Penn State and Texas, with Duke on a neutral floor coming Friday with a road swing at Oklahoma State and SMU on tap before Syracuse visits D.C.

That’s a real non-conference schedule. And Ewing might have the team to navigate it, with the destination ultimately being his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Notre Dame rides wedgie to win

There are fewer pure facepalm moments on a basketball court than when a player lodges a shot between the rim and the backboard. The wedgie, as it’s commonly known, is one of the game’s great quirks.

Maybe never, though, has the phenomenon been as welcomed as it was in South Bend on Thursday.

The wedgie helped Notre Dame pull itself out of a tight spot.

Down three, the Fighting Irish got a great look from distance, but TJ Gibbs’ attempt missed its mark. Had it been any normal carom, the game would have just ended with a Notre Dame home loss to Toledo. But no, my friends, Gibbs’ miss was not of the standard variety. It was, indeed, a wedgie. Which means a stopped clock and a jump ball, giving the ball back to Notre Dame with a second to play.

That set up Nat Laszewski’s overtime-forcing triple as time expired in regulation. Notre Dame went on to win, 64-62, in overtime.

Truly, a rescue wedgie.

Davide Moretti sparks No. 12 Texas Tech in 2nd Half of 72-57 Win

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LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Davide Moretti scored 13 of his 19 points after halftime, including all four of his 3-pointers, and No. 12 Texas Tech finally pulled away for a 72-57 win over Tennessee State on Thursday night.

Freshmen Terrence Shannon Jr. and Jahmi’us Ramsey each scored 13 points for the Red Raiders (4-0).

The Red Raiders were only up by 35-32 with just under 12 minutes left, and Tennessee State (3-2) had just missed a potential tying 3-pointer, before Moretti sparked the home team. The guard, the only returning starter after Tech went to the national championship game last season, had a pair of 3-pointers in a 10-3 run. Tech added 11 points in a row soon after that.

The Red Raiders, who never trailed, ended up leading by as many as 18 points late despite shooting only 34% (17 of 50 field goals).

Ravel Moody had 12 points to lead Tennessee State, which shot 35% (18 of 51). Wesley Harris and Shakem Johnson each scored 10 points.

Kyler Edwards added 10 points for Texas Tech, making up for his 1-of-11 shooting from the field by making all eight of his free throws. Chris Clark was scoreless while taking only one shot in 26 minutes, but he had 12 rebounds and four assists.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee State: The Tigers clawed all night against the reigning national runner-up. A bad shooting night by the Red Raiders kept the Tigers in the game, but fouls proved to be a key contributor to the loss. Tech made 32 of 38 free throws. Tennessee State faced tough competition in their first trip to Lubbock in history.

Texas Tech: An eight-day break for the Red Raiders may have been a factor in their slow night. Ramsey, the freshman who had gotten off to a tremendous start, was 4-of-13 shooting and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Tech’s defense, on the other hand, showed different life with solid press, zone and man coverage.

UP NEXT

Tennessee State heads to the West Coast to take on San Diego State on Monday night.

Texas Tech hosts Long Island on Sunday before leaving the state of Texas for the first time. The Red Raiders will spend the Thanksgiving holiday playing two games in Las Vegas.

NCAA denies waiver appeal from Michigan State’s Joey Hauser

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was taught by his mentor, the late Jud Heathcote, to give back to the game by being part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The Hall of Famer is choosing not to do that anymore.

A frustrated Izzo said Thursday he was resigning from the NABC board of directors after nearly 18 years of service. He said he wanted to focus on his team and family, but he also blamed the NCAA for making what he called “arbitrary decisions” regarding waiver requests, including denying forward Joey Hauser’s appeal to play this season.

“Joey did have a strong case and I’m devasted,” Izzo said.

Hauser transferred from Marquette in May and requested a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible immediately instead of sitting out the season, per usual transfer rules. The NCAA recently changed its waiver policy to give more undergraduate transfers a chance to become immediately eligible to compete.

“We opened Pandora’s box and maybe it will never be shut,” Izzo said.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is among the football players who received a waiver to play in 2019 after transferring following the 2018 season. Earlier this week, the NCAA cleared forward Gabe Osabuohien to play at West Virginia this season after approving his waiver request and TCU got a boost when Ohio State transfer Jaedon LeDee was granted a waiver.

Izzo did not reference any specific decision the NCAA has made, but he said the governing body is relying on people outside of the game to make critical decisions. He said he has tried to be a part of coming up with solutions as part of the NABC, but stepped down from his role because he is fed up.

“I just don’t believe I want to be dealing with these problems and banging my head against the wall,” he said.

Jim Haney, the longtime executive director of the NABC, said Izzo is not the only coach frustrated.

“There’s a lack of trust in terms of the process,” Haney said in a telephone interview. “Coaches look at stories about this kid becoming eligible immediately and then find out this kid is not and there’s a lot of uncertainty. Tom deeply cares about the game and is a great steward. When his frustration comes to the point that he wants to disengage from the conversation, I think that says something significant.”

A message seeking comment was left with the NCAA.

The 6-foot-9 Hauser, who is from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, averaged nearly 10 points and five-plus rebounds last season as a freshman.

The third-ranked Spartans play Virginia Tech next week in the Maui Invitational, where they will also face Dayton or Georgia and potentially No. 4 Kansas.

Patrick Ewing wins big again at MSG, Hoyas knock off No. 22 Texas

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NEW YORK (AP) — Mac McClung scored 19 points to help give coach Patrick Ewing another signature moment at Madison Square Garden, leading Georgetown to an 82-66 victory over No. 22 Texas on Thursday night.

The Hoyas (4-1) used a 12-0 run early in the second half that rallied the crowd and had “Let’s go Hoyas!” chants echoing throughout the arena. With his retired No. 33 New York Knicks jersey hanging in the rafters, Ewing helped orchestrate another wild one at his favorite arena.

The Hoyas are trying to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2015 and an early win over a Top 25 team could give that resume a boost.

Ewing walked on the court and waved his arms to implore the crowd to get louder in the waning moments.

That pose is a familiar sight around New York.

Ewing’s image is plastered inside and out at the Garden where he forged a Hall of Fame career. The most popular photo in the arena in one with his arms outstretched and his back toward the camera from the May 22, 1994, Game 7 win over the Chicago Bulls in the conference semis. His game-worn jersey and sneakers are encased in glass on the concourse. There’s photo of Ewing outside the Garden with his name in bold and the quote, “I always will be a Knick. And I will always be a New Yorker.”

The Knicks tweeted a photo montage of Ewing with the Hoyas and Knicks and wrote, “Pat comes full circle.”

New Yorkers and Georgetown fans haven’t forgotten the big man: Ewing walked off the court hugging and high-fiving fans on his way to the locker room.

Matt Coleman made all six 3-pointers and scored 22 points for the Longhorns (4-1). Texas lost with former Longhorn and injured Nets center Kevin Durant watching courtside. Former Longhorn and Nets center Jarrett Allen also rooted on Texas from a courtside seat.

Texas moved into the Top 25 this week at No. 22 with wins over California Baptist and Prairie View. The Longhorns are ranked for the first time this season and for the first time since November 2018.

The Hoyas made the charge to open the second half kept the pressure on to advance to the title game of the four-team tournament.

Ewing had beckoned Qudus Wahab up from the bench for a late first-half pep talk. Ewing had a few things to say to his 6-foot-11 freshman center and they ended the conversation with a fist bump.

Ewing’s motivation eventually worked on his big man. Wahab had a thunderous dunk for a 54-52 lead and the active Hoyas defensive forced another turnover under Texas’ basket. Ewing waved on the fast-break like a third base coach sending a runner home, and Terrell Allen scored to get the Garden fans up and going wild for the momentum shift. Ewing pumped his fist and the Hoyas were pushing for an upset.

The Longhorns shot only 37 percent from the floor and had 12 turnovers.

Jamorko Pickett scored 15 points and James Akinjo had 14 for the Hoyas.

BIG PICTURE

Georgetown: Former Hoyas star Alonzo Mourning was at the game to watch them knock off a ranked team for the third time under Ewing.

Texas: The Longhorns are sure to fall out of the Top 25 and now have to win a consolation game to salvage something out of their trip to New York.

UP NEXT

The Hoyas play the winner of No. 1 Duke vs. Cal on Friday in the 2K Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project championship. Texas gets the loser of that game.

Tyrique Jones leads No. 18 Xavier To 73-51 victory over Towson

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Tyrique Jones had 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead No. 18 Xavier to a 73-51 victory over Towson on Thursday night in the Charleston Classic.

The Musketeers are 5-0 for the second time in three seasons and first time since 2018 when they won the Big East Conference regular-season title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

This Xavier group just might have the pieces for another special season as long as Jones keeps playing like this. The dynamic 6-foot-9 senior had a rim-rattling jam early in the second half and finished with the second double-double of the season and 12th of his college career.

The Musketeers will face either Buffalo or UConn in the eight-team tournament Friday night for a spot in the championship game.

Xavier opened a double-digit lead with a 15-6 run midway through the opening half. Scruggs had a pair of baskets to start things, Dahmir Bishop hit a three, Scruggs added another bucket and Carter finished things with two fouls and an inside basket to put the Musketeers up 15-6.

The Tigers (2-3) struggled against Xavier’s relentless pressure, turning the ball over on three straight positions. They weren’t much more successful when they held onto the ball, going 1 of 14 from the field during one brutal stretch of the period.

Towson got a bit of a lift heading to the locker room as Jakigh Dottin made about a 35-footer as time ran out to draw his team to 31-20 at the break. Still, the Tigers could not get their shots to fall, finishing just 18-of-59 shooting (30.5 percent).

Jason Carter finished with 13 points and Bryce Moore added 12 points for Xavier, including a four-point play with 9:50 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Towson: The Tigers won’t be back home for a game until Dec. 10. They’ll be very used to each other after this seven-game stretch that started at with a loss at Florida a week ago and ends at Vermont on Dec. 7.

Xavier: The Musketeers first four wins all came at home and, while they were not all easy, there was a comfort to not leaving the gym. This week in Charleston is a big test for Xavier, which could wind up playing Florida or Miami in its tournament game Sunday night — either for third place or for its third in-season title in the past five seasons.

UP NEXT

Towson will play the Buffalo-UConn loser Friday.

Xavier will play the Buffalo-UConn winner Friday.