COLLEGE BASKETBALL TALKCBT Select Team
Buffalo Bulls Harvard Crimson Marshall Thundering Herd Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders NCAA Division I American Athletic Conference Central Florida Knights Cincinnati Bearcats Connecticut Huskies East Carolina Pirates Houston Cougars Memphis Tigers SMU Mustangs Temple Owls Tulane Green Wave Tulsa Golden Hurricane USF Bulls Atlantic 10 Davidson Wildcats Dayton Flyers Duquesne Dukes Fordham Rams George Mason Patriots George Washington Colonials La Salle Explorers Rhode Island Rams Richmond Spiders Saint Louis Billikens St. Bonaventure Bonnies St. Joseph's Hawks Umass Minutemen VCU Rams Atlantic Coast Conference Boston College Eagles Clemson Tigers Duke Blue Devils Florida Seminoles Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Louisville Cardinals Miami Hurricanes North Carolina State Wolfpack North Carolina Tar Heels Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pittsburgh Panthers Syracuse Orange Virginia Cavaliers Virginia Tech Hokies Wake Forest Demon Deacons Big 12 Conference Baylor Bears Iowa State Cyclones Kansas Jayhawks Kansas State Wildcats Oklahoma Sooners Oklahoma State Cowboys TCU Horned Frogs Texas Longhorns Texas Tech Red Raiders West Virginia Mountaineers Big East Conference Butler Bulldogs Creighton Blue Jays DePaul Blue Demons Georgetown Hoyas Marquette Golden Eagles Providence Friars Rutgers Scarlet Knights Seton Hall Pirates St. John's Red Storm Villanova Wildcats Xavier Musketeers Big Ten Conference Illinois Illini Indiana Hoosiers Iowa Hawkeyes Maryland Terrapins Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines Minnesota Golden Gophers Nebraska Cornhuskers Northwestern Wildcats Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State Nittany Lions Purdue Boilermakers Rutgers Scarlet Knights Wisconsin Badgers Missouri Valley Conference Wichita State Shockers Mountain West Air Force Boise State Colorado State Fresno State Nevada New Mexico San Diego State San Jose State UNLV Utah State Wyoming Pac-12 Conference Arizona State Sun Devils Arizona Wildcats California Bears Colorado Buffaloes Oregon Ducks Oregon State Beavers Stanford Cardinal UCLA Bruins USC Trojans Utah Utes Washington Huskies Washington State Cougars Southeastern Conference Alabama Crimson Tide Arkansas Razorbacks Auburn Tigers Florida Gators Georgia Bulldogs Kentucky Wildcats LSU Tigers Mississippi State Bulldogs Missouri Tigers Ole Miss Rebels South Carolina Gamecocks Tennessee Volunteers Texas A&M Aggies Vanderbilt Commodores West Coast Conference BYU Cougars Gonzaga Bulldogs Pepperdine Waves Saint Mary's Gaels Old Dominion Monarchs UMBC Retrievers Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Is Duke a great team that’s figuring things out or a bad team that’s been clutch?

11 Comments

I think it’s time for us to have a conversation about No. 1 Duke.

The Blue Devils are, rightfully, the No. 1 team in the country.

They are undefeated on the season with wins over Michigan State, Florida and Texas as well as Wednesday night’s victory over Indiana in a raucous and rowdy Assembly Hall.

They’re 9-0 on the season, and two of the guys on their roster are going to be in the mix for All-American, if not National Player of the Year, come season’s end.

And yet, if you’ve watched these games, you’ve probably come away feeling a little unsure about this team. After all, they looked like the No. 1 team in the country for all of about 20 minutes during the PK-80, when they erased a 16-point second half deficit against Texas and a 17-point second half deficit against Florida.

They never really looked like a title challenger against Indiana, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, and it took an out-of-body experience from Grayson Allen for the Blue Devils to put away Michigan State.

I was joined by myself on Thursday to talk through everything Duke, from the travel to the defense to how much you can trust a team that seems to only win games late.

ME: In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue against just how impressive Duke’s wins are. Florida is a Final Four team. Michigan State can win a national title. Texas has shown second weekend upside. I don’t care how bad Indiana will be this season, getting a win in that arena and in that atmosphere in the first true road game for a team where eight of the nine rotation players are either freshmen or seldomly-used sophomores is not easy to do.

But the way Duke went about getting those wins is a major red flag. How can you trust a team that consistently digs themselves a hole? How can you trust a team that hasn’t proven they can defend for 40 minutes? It’s great that they’ve been able to flip a switch and turn into their best selves with five minutes left, but why can’t Coach K get them to play like that for 40 minutes instead of five minutes?

ALSO ME: Those are valid concerns, and I’m not sure that there is anyone saying they aren’t. But what you have to remember with this group is that they are young. They are inexperienced. There are some issues with depth that have yet to be addressed. Sometimes it takes freshmen a while to learn how to play at the college level and that’s what we’re seeing with Duke, except that they aren’t losing games while doing, at least not yet. Of course they’re not a finished product three weeks into the season, so I’m more pleased about the fact that they have guys that can find a way to win even when things aren’t going right than I am worried about how freshmen look like freshmen.

ME AGAIN: But have the freshmen really looked like freshmen? The four in the starting lineup are all averaging at least 12.8 points. Marvin Bagley III is putting up 22 and 11. Wendell Carter, the “other” freshman big man, is putting up 13 points, nine boards and 2.3 blocks a night. Trevon Duval is averaging 13 points and six assists despite the fact that he cannot shoot. Even Gary Trent Jr., who has probably had the most underwhelming start of any of the four, has made a habit of making critical, winning plays.

So who actually looks like a freshmen?

HELLO. IT’S ME: All of them, once you get past the counting stats.

BACK TO THE FIRST ME: So Marvin Bagley III, National Player of the Year front runner, is playing like a freshman? Are you off your meds?

ME NO. 2: Yes, but that’s neither here nor there.

Bagley has been dominant, there is no question about that, but acting like he’s played flawless basketball is kind of silly. He gets worn out during games, although some of that has to do with how hard Duke rides him. He was exhausted for long stretches against Indiana and decided that getting back in transition defense was optional. That’s what freshmen do. Veterans either get back or sub themselves out to get a breather.

And he’s not alone there. Duke’s man-to-man defense is a mess. Their zone isn’t all that much better. KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric ranks Duke as the nation’s 46th-best defense, but that isn’t telling the whole story. KenPom’s formula is still using some predictive elements from last season’s team, and if you look at Duke’s raw defensive numbers, they ranks 102nd in points-per-possession allowed. They don’t force turnovers and they don’t get defensive rebounds. That combination is less-than-ideal, and it’s the biggest reason the Blue Devils keep putting together these slow starts.

They can’t get stops. It happens with freshmen-laden teams.

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

ORIGINAL ME: And what is it about the way that Duke has defended over the course of the last four or five seasons that leads you to believe that they are going to be able to figure this thing out by the time March rolls around? Only once since 2011 has Duke finished as a top 25 defense, according to KenPom, and that came the year that they won the national title, when they entered the ACC tournament as a defense ranked outside the top 60.

OTHER ME: That certainly is a concern, but since the season started, tell me when Coach K has actually had a chance to regroup and find a way to fix what ails Duke.

I’ll wait.

They played nine games in 19 days. They’ve traveled to Chicago. They played three games in four days in Portland — including a title game that ended at 1 a.m. ET Monday morning — before heading to Bloomington for a Wednesday tip in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When have they had the time to get on their practice court and solve their problems? They haven’t.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that these kids have been run into the ground by now. Bagley played at last 38 minutes in each of the last three games. Allen played all 40 minutes in the last two games and like would have against Texas if he didn’t get into foul trouble. Duval has topped 35 minutes in each of the last four games. Other than Carter, who seems to be physically incapable of staying out of foul trouble, Trent is the starter getting the most rest and he’s still clocked more than 33 minutes a night over the course of the last four games.

I just don’t think you can truly judge them until they’re back onto a relatively normal schedule.

FIRST ME: I get that, but if the issue really was that they were exhausted, wouldn’t that mean that Duke died at the end of these hard-fought, competitive games? If their legs are shot, explain this stat: In the final five minutes (and overtime) of Duke’s last three games, the Blue Devils have held Texas, Florida and Indiana to a combined 5-for-25 shooting and outscored them 56-19.

At the end of games.

At the end of an insane two weeks of travel.

After their best players have played 30-35 minutes already that night.

And you’re going to try and tell me that the reason they start slow is that they are too tired? It’s too early to have started drinking.

(Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

FINAL ME: It’s never too early for that, but no, that’s not what I’m saying.

My point is that the way Duke’s first three weeks have played out makes it difficult to truly get a grasp on who they are. Maybe they are a bad defensive team that has been bailed out by the fact that their front line is utterly unstoppable. Maybe they’re a good defensive team that just has to spent a couple of days at practice tweaking what clearly hasn’t been working to date. We don’t actually have an answer yet.

And we won’t until their schedule normalizes.

But at the end of the day, this is a team with two potential all-americans, five or six potential NBA players and a 9-0 record with four impressive wins that they didn’t necessarily play well enough to get.

If they can overcome adversity while still trying to figure things out, if they’re learning lessons without taking losses, the only thing I keep asking myself is what this team will be if and when they do put it all together?

Scary, that’s what.

ME: Whatever. You’re still an idiot.

Thursday’s Things To Know: No. 6 Michigan State outlasts Nebraska, Ja Morant dunks all over the OVC and the Pac-12 has a sole leader

AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Leave a comment

There wasn’t a matchup of top-25 teams Thursday, but there were competitive games across the country, starting in Lincoln with Michigan State and Nebraska and ending in Tempe with Oregon State and Arizona State. Pl, there was a dunk that may have qualified as national emergency. Here’s what you need to know:

NO. 6 MICHIGAN STATE STAYS PERFECT IN THE B1G WITH WIN AT NEBRASKA

Nebraska looked like it had the sixth-ranked Spartans on the ropes in Lincoln with the score knotted at 44 just inside the midpoint of the second half. Then, though, Michigan State ripped off a 7-0 run and never looked back – despite an ugly final minute – to claim a 70-64 win over the Huskers to move to 16-2 on the year and 7-0 in the Big Ten.

The win is most notable for the Spartans as it once again came without the services of Joshua Langford or Nick Ahrens, both of whom continue to be sidelined with injuries. With both on the shelf, Cassius Winston put together a game to bolster his player of the year candidacy, scoring a career-best 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting while dishing out six assists and grabbing three rebounds. Winston doesn’t have the game that always pops off the TV screen, but he’s the type of veteran point guard that can help propel a team to a national title, especially if Langford comes back healthy and productive.

For the Huskers, it’s certainly not a bad loss given Michigan State’s profile, but the opportunity cost has to sting. Last year Tim Miles’ team racked up wins, but missed out on the tournament because not enough of them were of the quality variety. Here, they had a top-10 team staggered with less than 10 minutes to play at home but couldn’t close the deal. The good news for them is they’ve already got a couple of nice wins on the resume, but most importantly the B1G isn’t the wasteland it was last year, leaving them with bountiful opportunities to pick up meaningful victories before March. To do that, though, they can’t have James Palmer, Jr. going 6 of 21 from the floor like he did against the Spartans. To Palmer’s credit, though, he got to the line 11 times and made every attempt to finish with 24 points while grabbing eight rebounds and recording three assists. Shooting 5 of 26 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range won’t win you too many games, either.

 

STAY OUT OF JA MORANT’S WAY

If you wanna jump with Ja Morant, God bless you, but it ain’t going to work out well for you. Eastern Illinois learned that lesson Thursday as Morant unleashed yet another must-see dunk.

On top of that, the future lottery pick had 27 points and nine assists while shooting 11 of 16 from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He’s an unsolvable problem for the OVC.

 

WASHINGTON IS ALONE IN FIRST IN THE PAC-12

Congratulations to the Washington Huskies, the last remaining undefeated in Pac-12 play. It may not be an honor, but it’s something, at least.

Mike Hopkins’ team blasted Stanford (80-64) while Arizona lost at home to Oregon (59-54) and Oregon State was behind big before making things tight in Tempe and eventually losing to Arizona State (70-67), which has now won three of four. There’s been plenty written about the Pac-12, but the league continues to do itself damage, most notable with the Wildcats taking a loss in Tuscon to a depleted Ducks team. That’s not going to do much for the conference’s reputation or their own NCAA tournament resume.

Zach Norvell leads No. 5 Gonzaga over Loyola Marymount 73-55

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 17 points and No. 5 Gonzaga used a stout defense to beat Loyola Marymount 73-55 on Thursday night, the eighth consecutive win for the Bulldogs since a pair of losses knocked them out of the top spot in The AP Top 25.

Brandon Clarke added 13 points, Corey Kispert 12 and Rui Hachimura 10 for Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast), which beat Loyola Marymount for the 20th straight time. The Zags have won 18 straight games at home.

James Batemon led Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3) with 12 points.

Loyola used a slow-down offense and stingy defense to keep the scoring low, and it mostly accomplished that goal.

Gonzaga, which averages 92 points a game, led just 17-16 midway through the first half.

The Zags went on a 19-6 run the rest of the half to take a 36-22 lead at halftime. The Lions shot only 36 percent in the first and committed 11 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Norvell highlighted a 14-2 Gonzaga run to open the second half that lifted the Bulldogs to a 50-24 lead. Meanwhile, the Lions were missing eight of their first 10 shots.

Loyola Marymount made just five of its first 20 shots in the second half, and fell behind 61-35 with less than 8 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Loyola Marymount: The Lions opened the season 11-1, but have dropped off since … The Lions ranked 13th in the NCAA in defense at 61.2 points per game … Their last win in this lop-sided series was in 2010. They have not won in Spokane since 1991 … The Lions have already surpassed last season’s 11 wins.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are cruising toward another WCC title, outscoring conference foes by nearly 30 points per game… The Zags suffered back-to-back losses to No. 3 Tennessee and at No. 13 North Carolina in mid-December and have not lost since … They lead the nation in field goal shooting at 52.6 percent and are second in scoring at 92.2 points per game … Gonzaga and Marquette are the only programs with both men’s and women’s teams in the Top 15.

UP NEXT

Loyola Marymount hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at last place Portland on Saturday.

Cassius Winston’s career-high 29 lifts No. 6 Spartans over Huskers

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four nights after Tom Izzo called out Cassius Winston for his poor play in Michigan State’s previous game, the Spartans’ star point guard responded better than his coach would have expected.

Winston scored a career-high 29 points to go over 1,000 for his career, had six assists and played tough defense on Glynn Watson Jr. while leading No. 6 Michigan State past Nebraska 70-64 on Thursday night.

“I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to get measured on how you bounce back,’ ” Izzo said.

Winston more than passed the test.

“Cassius, the way he ran that whole thing, he was like a quarterback dissecting a defense,” Izzo said.

In a win at Penn State on Sunday, Winston had seven turnovers, and his 11 points were his fewest since Florida held him to 10 on Dec. 8. Izzo told reporters it was one of the worst games Winston had played in his three seasons.

Of the Spartans’ first 18 field goals against Nebraska, Winston scored eight of them and had assists on five others. He held Watson, the Huskers’ hottest player the last week, to 3-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points.

Izzo’s criticism motivated him, he said.

“Just get back on track, playing at the level I was playing at,” Winston said. “I want to play at the highest standard, my best ability. I’ve got to do that for this team and put us in the best situation.”

Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) won its 11th straight game overall and extended its school-record Big Ten winning streak to 19 games. The Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) had their school-record 20-game home win streak end.

Nick Ward added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also made his first 3-pointer of the season and second of his career.

“That should keep him happy for a week or 10 days,” Izzo said.

The Spartans led by 12 points in the final 2 minutes, but Nebraska cut the lead to four twice before Matt McQuaid made a pair of free throws for his first points with 14.2 seconds to put the game away.

Nebraska shot a season-low 32.8 percent and was just 5 of 26 on 3-pointers, 1 of 12 in the second half.

“I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

James Palmer, who led Nebraska with 24 points, struggled mightily from the field, going 6 of 21, but he made all 11 of his free throws.

“Palmer’s a good player, and I feel like I did a pretty good job on him,” McQuaid said. “I just tried to do what I could. He’s a bigger, more physical guard. I tried to get a couple charges, but things weren’t going my way. So I had to figure out different ways to guard him.”

Nebraska had hoped to build off its win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday night but couldn’t get going. The Huskers were trying for their first win over a top-10 opponent in nine tries.

“You need to build and play from the front against these teams,” Miles said.

He found no consolation in playing the Spartans close for most of the game, which had 11 lead changes and six ties.

“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I’m utterly mad and disappointed.”

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were without Joshua Langford (ankle) for a fifth straight game and Kyle Ahrens (back) for a second in a row.

Nebraska: The Huskers were feeling pretty good about themselves after an impressive win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday, and they had an amped standing-room crowd on hand. But they could never find rhythm until it was too late against the nation’s No. 3 team in field-goal defense.

HE SAID IT

“We were paranoid of this game. They didn’t make shots tonight. Those things happen sometimes. Tim’s got a great team that’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.” — Izzo.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts No. 19 Maryland on Monday.

Nebraska visits Rutgers on Monday.

WATCH: Ja Morant can’t be stopped

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Ohio Valley Conference is just not equipped to deal with Ja Morant.

The Murray State guard just keeps dunking on anyone and everyone that stands in his way, the latest victim coming Thursday night at Eastern Illinois.

There’s just so much to love about this dunk. The athleticism. The explosiveness. The aggressiveness. The ferocity. It’s thunder meeting lightning at the rim.

If there’s someone who can stop Morant, a likely top-10 pick in June, it sure ain’t in the OVC.

UCLA, USC meet amid rocky seasons for crosstown rivals

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fired coach. A transfer. Suspensions. Injuries. UCLA and Southern California have experienced it all barely halfway through the season.

Things began promisingly enough for the Bruins. They were an AP Top 25 team and were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 before early consecutive losses to ranked Michigan State and North Carolina knocked them out. Then came stunning defeats at home to mid-majors Belmont and Liberty. Those precipitated the biggest shocker of all: coach Steve Alford’s firing on New Year’s Eve.

Murry Bartow was quickly tabbed as interim coach for the Bruins (10-7, 3-1 Pac-12). They’ve won three out of four games under him.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” UCLA freshman Moses Brown said, “but I think we caught our stride and the sky is the limit for us.”

USC was predicted to finish fifth in a weakened Pac-12. The Trojans got off to a 5-2 start before dropping four in a row. They regrouped to reel off four straight wins, including a home sweep to open conference play. But they dropped a pair on the road, where freshman Kevin Porter Jr. got suspended last weekend.

In the midst of rocky seasons, the crosstown rivals meet Saturday at Galen Center. The Bruins have won four in a row in the series and are 8-4 at USC’s arena since it opened.

“Coming off a two-game losing streak, we’re kind of hoping this is a game that we can bounce back,” USC’s Nick Rakocevic said. “We want to be put in a good position for the rest of the Pac-12.”

Both teams would likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament title to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Last March, the Bruins played in the First Four for the first time in school history and lost. The Trojans were snubbed by the selection committee despite finishing second in the Pac-12 for the first time in 25 years after losing twice to UCLA.

“We play UCLA twice, but there’s 16 other games. You have to do well the rest of the league,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Whether you win or lose these games, yes, it’s great for a rivalry, it’s great for another win in your conference, but it’s a long Pac-12 season. We try to keep that in perspective no matter who we play even if it’s UCLA.”

The Trojans (9-8, 2-2) have played over half their games with eight or fewer scholarship players because of injuries and the recent transfer of Jordan Usher, who was suspended before he left.

“Nothing surprises us at this point,” Enfield said. “The injuries and distractions have had a significant impact on our team.”

Porter was back practicing with the Trojans this week, but he hasn’t been cleared to play in games.

“He’s working on some things off the court. He has very clear expectations that he has to meet,” Enfield said. “As he progresses, we will reevaluate his status.”

Bartow said the Bruins will prepare as if Porter will play Saturday. Before his suspension, Porter missed time with a leg injury.

USC’s Bennie Boatwright, a local product who was recruited by UCLA, has been on an offensive tear in his last seven games. He scored a career-high 37 points in an overtime loss at Oregon State and is averaging a team-leading 17.1 points. The Bruins are led by Kris Wilkes at 17.3 points a game.

“Inside, they’ve got some really, really good players,” said Bartow, who has the Bruins playing at a faster pace and zipping the ball around.

One of the intriguing matchups on Saturday will be the 6-foot-11 Rakocevic and Brown, who at 7-1 is the tallest player at UCLA in decades. Rakocevic averages 14.9 points and a league-leading 9.5 rebounds. Brown averages 11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds

“It’s going to be fun going against somebody like that,” Rakocevic said.

A famous name associated with the rivalry won’t be on the court.

USC’s Chuck O’Bannon, the son of former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon, is expected to seek a medical redshirt. The sophomore broke his pinky finger in practice in November, had surgery, got the cast off in December and it hasn’t healed properly. He’s still has pain, too, Enfield said.

%d bloggers like this:
Powered by WordPress.com VIP