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Monday Overreactions: Gonzaga’s defensive woes, Kentucky’s back, show the mids some love

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Juwan Morgan, Indiana

Indiana’s best player this season put together the best performance of his career on Saturday afternoon.

One year after setting his career-high by scoring 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Juwan Morgan went out and put 35 points on Butler in this year’s iteration of the same event. He was 12-for-14 from the floor. He made four of Indiana’s nine threes and seven of their eight free throws. He scored 35 of their 71 points in a 71-68 win over Butler, and while Robert Phinisee’s buzzer-beating three is going to be what everyone remembers from this game, the truth is that Morgan is the reason the Hoosiers won this game. He kept them close in a game that Butler more or less controlled from the tip and gave them a shot to win in the final seconds.

And frankly, it’s a microcosm of Indiana’s season to date. The Hoosiers have yet to hit anything close to their stride. The 23 point win over Marquette last month looks better and better, but since that game Indiana has lost twice and struggled in their six wins. It took them longer than it should have to put away UT Arlington and UC Davis. They won one possession games in four straight, over Northwestern, at Penn State, against Louisville and, on Saturday, vs. Butler. They’ve battled injury. They’ve battled depth issues. They have a roster full of underclassmen that are being asked to figure things out on the fly.

Yet, they are currently 9-2 on the season with a number of good wins and nary a bad loss. Getting smacked by Duke in Cameron is going to happen to everyone. Their loss at Arkansas was by one point in a game that Indiana probably should have one.

If there has been one constant for them, it’s Morgan, their ever-underrated star.

If and when Indiana finally gets healthy and starts playing up to their potential, they are going to be in a position to get a pretty good seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s due, in very large part, to the work Morgan has done these first 11 games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina landed the marquee non-conference win that they’ve been searching for on Saturday.

A loss to Texas in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational burned their shot at playing Michigan State. The Tar Heels were smoked on the road by Michigan. Kentucky, as of today, doesn’t look like it is going to end up being as good as we thought they would be.

That left Saturday’s home date with then-No. 4 Gonzaga, and North Carolina delivered. Spurred on by hot shooting from Cam Johnson and — finally — Luke Maye to go along with a career-best 14 points from Seventh Woods, the Tar Heels ran away from the Zags late in the first half and coasted to a 103-90 win in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels are dangerous. They actually matchup well with the likes of Duke, Gonzaga and Tennessee, and given that Nassir Little is still coming off of the bench — we’ll get to that in a bit — they have the kind of depth and lineup versatility that you need. When it comes down to it, getting smoked at Michigan when Zavier Simpson eats up a freshman point guard is not that bad of a loss, and the loss to Texas came on the one day this season where Kerwin Roach decided he wanted to be Russell Westbrook.

I’m still very much in on the Tar Heels.

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MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. GONZAGA’S DEFENSE WILL COST THEM A FINAL FOUR

We have reached the point in the season where I can comfortably say that Gonzaga’s defense is a major, major problem. As of today, the Zags rank 63rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, but considering that KenPom’s algorithm still factors in last season’s data, it stands to reason that the Zags are, truthfully, worse than just 63rd in defensive efficiency. Against North Carolina on Saturday, they gave up 103 points. They allowed 76 in 68 possessions to Tennessee. Washington scored 79 in just 67 possessions. Creighton put up 92 points in 76 possessions. Duke lit up the Zags as well, scoring 48 of their 87 points in the second half.

I did a study on this last season when Duke’s defense was the biggest concern in college basketball. Only one team has won a national title in the KenPom era when they entered the NCAA tournament ranked outside of the top 35 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric — North Carolina in 2009. Only two other teams reached the title game when they entered the tournament ranked outside the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and reached the national title game: Butler in 2011, the year they beat No. 11 seed VCU in the Final Four, and Trey Burke’s Michigan team in 2013.

The good news for the Zags?

Both Michigan in 2013 and North Carolina in 2009 were one of the top two teams offenses in the country, and that’s precisely where the Zags reside this year.

And it would stand to reason that the return of Killian Tillie will help on the defensive end of the floor.

But it is worth mentioning here that neither Josh Perkins nor Zach Norvell Jr. are considered good defenders, while Rui Hachimura’s biggest issue is being able to stay in front of people on the perimeter. Tillie’s return would likely bump him to the three.

It is too early to start freaking out about this. Remember, we had this same conversation about Duke last season, and they ended up as a top ten defense after switching to zone. We also had this conversation about Duke in 2015, the year they won the title.

But this is something we will need to track all season long.

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2. KENTUCKY IS … BACK?

The Wildcats de-pantsed a bad Utah team, which in a vacuum is really nothing to write home about.

Kentucky should be beating teams ranked outside the top 100 on KenPom 88-61 in Rupp Arena.

But the reason this is notable today is because Kentucky hasn’t been doing that this season. They’ve struggled to put away teams that we all thought would be overmatched, and since they have lost the only two games they’ve played outside of Lexington, they are falling out of top 25s all over the place. They were not ranked in the NBC Sports Top 25 last week or this week.

That said, this was a promising performance from Kentucky simply because they finally beat the hell out of someone. We’ve been waiting all season for them to play like the team that whooped up on everyone that crossed their path in the Bahamas, and they did that on Saturday. Utah is going to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the Pac-12 this year, but that is still a high-major basketball team coached by one of the best coaches in the sport.

Maybe all they needed to kickstart their season was a week’s worth of doubters telling the world how losing Quade Green and dropping an overtime game to Seton Hall was the death-knell for the John Calipari era at Kentucky.

3. KANSAS CANNOT REACH THEIR CEILING WITHOUT GETTING QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

The Jayhawks are a two-headed monster at this point in the year. I wrote 1,000 words on Saturday explaining why. The tl;dr version is pretty simple: No Udoka Azubuike means that Dedric Lawson has to play the five. Dedric Lawson at the five means that Kansas doesn’t have anyone capable of scoring that can play the four, and since Bill Self’s freshman backcourt hasn’t looked all that much more effective offensively than Marcus Garrett, there are really only two players that opposing defenses have to worry about.

Lawson and Lagerald Vick.

Some of that gets solved with the return of the big fella.

But there is no doubt that Kansas needs to find a way to get Quentin Grimes going. After looking like the best freshman in the country for the first half of the first game this season, Grimes has been non-existent for the Jayhawks. He’s not making threes. He’s not getting to the rim. He looks like he’s totally lost his confidence. And if he’s not a threat to score, there’s no point in having in on the court, as Garrett is better than Grimes at everything that doesn’t involve putting the ball in the basket.

4. THE NCAA TOURNAMENT SELECTION COMMITTEE MUST REWARD THE MID-MAJORS THIS YEAR

The Pac-12 had a dreadful weekend in what has been a pretty dreadful start to their season. Washington was smoked by No. 13 Virginia Tech. Utah was embarrassed by No. 19 Kentucky. Belmont won at UCLA in a game where UCLA led by 12 in the second half. USC got smoked by Oklahoma. Arizona lost at home to Baylor, who most think will be competing for second-to-last in the Big 12 this season. Oregon State lost at home to a rebuilding Texas A&M. Cal improved to 4-5 on the season, but they needed a jumper with 3.8 seconds left to get past 3-6 Cal Poly.

There’s a very real chance that the Pac-12 is a two-bid conference.

The American looks like it is going to end up being a two-bid league, depending on how things shake out. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a one-bid league. The Mountain West and WCC will likely both end up being one-bid leagues as long as Gonzaga and Nevada are the teams that win their respective automatic bids.

The problem with this, however, is that we are going to need to find a way to get to 36 at-large bids somehow.

I hope this means that the mid-majors that have won big games during non-conference play get rewarded. Belmont has beaten UCLA on the road, Illinois State and swept a Lipscomb team that has won at SMU, at TCU and very nearly pipped a win at Louisville. Buffalo is undefeated with a win at West Virginia and a sweep of Southern Illinois. Furman is undefeated with a win at Villanova and a trip to LSU coming up on Friday.

I know there are more teams that deserve mention here as well that I’m just not remembering off the top of my head.

And I hope that the work these programs have done in the non-conference will get them the attention they deserve and an at-large bid should they end up getting upset in their league tournament.

I also know that probably isn’t going to be how it goes.

We’ll just invite the entire ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 and call it a bracket.

5. CAM JOHNSON IS THE REASON NASSIR LITTLE DOESN’T PLAY 35 MINUTES A NIGHT

Much has been made this season about why Nassir Little, a top five prospect and a potential top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, isn’t starting and is only seeing 20 minutes when he’s been so productive in those minutes.

The reason why is very, very simple, and I explained it all right here on Saturday.

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.