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Weekend Preview: Duke-North Carolina highlights a loaded weekend of March hoops

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By far the biggest game of the weekend will happen down on Tobacco Road, where No. 5 Duke will host No. 9 North Carolina as the Blue Devils look to get a measure of revenge on the Tar Heels for last month’s loss in Chapel Hill.

The difference now, however, is that Duke has fully gone over to the dark side: They play zone.

All the time.

It’s still something that is difficult for me to wrap my mind around, but it has changed the trajectory of Duke’s season. Suddenly, they are able to defend at an elite level, which means that we are now talking about a team that could very well be college basketball’s best.

UNC will be their biggest test since making the change, however, and it may truly be the first time that Duke actually faces off with a team that is capable of breaking down that zone. Because here’s the thing about this UNC team: They may not be the best that Roy Williams has ever had, but on paper, they sure do look like a group that can compete against a 2-3 zone.

They have more shooting around their perimeter than they have had in just about in season in recent memory. They also have a pair of players that can get into the high-post and make a play in Theo Pinson and Luke Maye. I still have no idea how they are going to be able to hang with Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter in the paint, but they did just fine with that when they played the first time.

To be frank, losses this week by both teams may have hindered the chances that this game would be a playoff for a No. 1 seed, but I do think this is the kind of test that we needed to see both teams have. Are they truly Final Four contenders, or have they just gotten hot feasting on the dregs of the ACC?

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • THE BIG TEN TOURNAMENT: The semifinals will be held on Saturday afternoon and the title game will take place on Sunday. It should be a fun couple of days in the Garden.
  • FOUR AUTOMATIC BIDS WILL BE EARNED: The Ohio Valley will hand out their league’s automatic bid on Saturday night while the Missouri Valley, the Big South and the Atlantic Sun will determine their NCAA Tournament participant on Sunday.
  • No. 23 KENTUCKY at FLORIDA (-4), Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Kentucky has been playing their best basketball of the season of late, and the lineup that they’ve been using to do so should be able to matchup with Florida’s four-guard look. I know it’s on the road, but if you can actually get Kentucky (+4), take it. Pick: Kentucky (+4)
  • No. 10 CINCINNATI (-2) at No. 11 WICHITA STATE, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: This is exactly how the AAC wanted it to play out. The two best teams in the conference playing for the conference title on the final day of the regular season. Cincinnati’s been the best team in the league, but Wichita State’s playing better of late and is finally getting something out of Markis McDuffie. Give me the points and the home team. Pick: Wichita State (+2)

Former LSU coach Johnny Jones hired by Texas Southern

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Johnny Jones is in charge of a college basketball program once again.

The former North Texas and LSU head coach will be the next head coach at Texas Southern, replacing Mike Davis, who left to take over at Detroit.

“I’m really excited about it,” Jones told Fox 26 in Houston. “This is a terrific opportunity with a great university in a great city.”

Jones went 90-72 in five seasons in Baton Rouge, but finished his final year, the 2016-17 season, with just a 10-21 record. He’s best-known for failing to get to the NCAA tournament with a team that featured Ben Simmons.

Coach K: ‘I have no plans to retire’

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the greatest college basketball coach this side of John Wooden, said on Monday that he has given on thought to the idea of when he will call it quits.

“I have no plans to retire,” Krzyzewski said on the College Hoops Today Podcast. “I feel better than I have in a long time. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. There’s no end in sight.”

The question of whether or not Coach K will be around all that much longer has been something that has lingered over the sport given the numerous health issues that he has dealt with in recent years. He’s undergone surgery six times in the last two years and, at 71 years old, is at an age where most everyone is hoping to retire while working one of the most strenuous and time-consuming jobs imaginable.

Put another way, no one would blame Krzyzewski if he wanted to hang it up.

But instead, he is arguably at the top of his game. He’s churned out elite recruiting classes in each of the last four seasons, he’s won two National Titles in the last eight seasons and he has three of the nation’s top five prospects enrolling for the 2018-19 season.

He’s not slowing down.

So why would he thinking about leaving the game?

VIDEO: Mixtape for Duke commit R.J. Barrett, potential 2019 No. 1 pick

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Last week, after the NBA draft officially concluded, we posted a mock draft for the lottery in 2019.

At the top of that list was R.J. Barrett, a Duke-commit and Canadian-native that has NBA scouts wowed and intrigued. This mixtape should give you a good feel for why.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.