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No. 2 Duke cannot win a national title if they do not fix their defense

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Four days ago, when N.C. State paid a visit to South Bend to take on a Notre Dame team that was playing without Bonzie Colson, the Wolfpack lost by 30 and scored a measly 58 points.

On Saturday, when N.C. State squared off with the No. 2 team in the country in Duke, Kevin Keatts’ club put 96 points on the scoreboard, beating the Blue Devils 96-85.

And as impressive as the win was for Keatts – he also owns a victory against No. 14 Arizona – the story of this game was that this was yet another disappointing defensive outing from the Blue Devils. Duke gave up 96 points on 75 possessions one week after allowing 93 points on 81 possessions against Florida State in Cameron. This all comes on the heels of allowing Boston College to drop 89 points in 74 possessions on them in their ACC opener.

The Blue Devils are now 1-2 in ACC play this season. They have allowed at least 89 points in all three of those games, two of which came against teams unlikely to reach the NCAA tournament and none of which came against programs with a real chance of competing for the ACC regular season title. They are dead last in defensive efficiency in league play and rank 105th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

As of today, Duke cannot be considered a national title contender, not unless they find a way to drastically improve the way that they defend.

And I’m just not sold on the idea that they are going to be able to.

This is not the first time that I have voiced concerns about Duke’s ability to defend. I wrote an entire column earlier this year arguing with myself over whether or not Duke was actually good. I think they are; frankly, they have the most talented starting five in college basketball. But the mitigating circumstance at the time of that column was that Duke was in the midst of a brutal early-season, one that saw a roster full of freshmen jettisoning all over the country and playing nine games in 19 days before the start of the finals period.

Then things slowed down.

Saturday was just the third game that Duke has played in the last four weeks, since their Dec. 9th loss at Boston College. They’ve had 25 days without games that they could have devoted to learning how to stop a pick-and-roll or how to rotate defensively or when to switch. It hasn’t helped.

If Duke didn’t learn in the six weeks of preseason that they had, if they didn’t learn in the four weeks that they had in between their first league game and Saturday’s trip to Raleigh, when will they learn?

We’ve been here before.

In 2015, the year that Duke won the national title, we had similar questions to the ones that we are asking today. I remember it like it was yesterday: Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte lit up Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, exposing Jahlil Okafor’s inabilities on the defensive end of the floor to the world in a nationally-televised game. Those defensive issues didn’t really get solved at any point during the regular season or the conference tournament, and heading into the NCAA tournament, Duke was ranked outside the top 60 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.

And then it all changed.

Duke played defense at a level that, extrapolated over an entire season, would have been on par with the best defenses we’ve ever seen in college basketball, finished the year ranked 12th in defensive efficiency on KenPom and earned Coach K his fifth national title.

That could happen this year. Duke certainly has the athleticism up and down their roster to make that a reality.

But barring some kind of drastic turn around on that end of the floor, Duke cannot be considered a contender to win the national title.

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”