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Four takeaways from No. 1 Duke’s win over No. 4 Virginia

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R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson combined to score 57 points as No. 1 Duke survived an off-night from Cam Reddish to take down No. 4 Virginia, the last remaining unbeaten in college basketball, 72-70.

De’Andre Hunter led Virginia with 18 points while Ty Jerome finished with 14 points, four assists and four boards, the majority of his damage being done in the second half. Duke led 37-32 heading into halftime, cut the lead to 40-39 by the first TV timeout. From that point until the Blue Devils used a 6-0 run to push their lead out to 67-60, the game was a thrilling, one possession battle between two of the best teams in the country.

For me, that was the most important factor on display.

These could very well be the two best teams in college basketball. On a different day — one where Kyle Guy or Braxton Key makes one or two of the handful of wide open threes they had in the second half — Virginia wins this game. At the same time, we can say that if Tre Jones is healthy for the return leg, Duke could go into John Paul Jones Arena and get a win and no one would be surprised.

Speaking of Jones, much was made of the importance of his absence in the buildup to this game, but Duke still managed to find a way to win.

Here are four things to takeaway from the result:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON IS SPECIAL

Breaking news!

The likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the probably National Player of the Year is a great basketball player.

Shocking, right?

But in all seriousness, he was absolutely unstoppable on Saturday night in Cameron. There is no team in the country that is better than Virginia when it comes to stopping dribble penetration — that is the entire point of the Pack-Line — and Zion was able to get to the rim more or less at will. Virginia tried everything to slow him down, from using future top ten pick De’Andre Hunter, to Mamadi Diakite, to Braxton Key. By the end of the second half, Tony Bennett put Jack Salt on Zion, hoping that it would be more effective using the burly, 7-foot New Zealander to keep Zion from bullying his way to the basket while helping as much as possible.

(I know this is probably a different conversation for a different space, but in all seriousness, Virginia’s entire premise defensively is to force drivers to play with as little space as possible, and Zion got wherever he wanted. In the NBA — with the longer three-point line, shooters all over the floor and more space than anyone knows what to do with — how do you keep him out of the lane?)

With the loss to Syracuse on Monday night, Duke is going to fall out of the top spot in the AP Poll. That’s justified.

But it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a team with Zion Williamson as the second-option offensively is not the best team in college basketball.

2. THE CHESS MATCH BETWEEN THESE TWO COACHES WAS AMAZING, BUT COACH K WON THIS ROUND

It was fascinating to watch these two coaching geniuses trade haymakers for 40 minutes on Saturday night.

Coach K landed the first blow. Virginia runs the blocker-mover offense, which is more-or-less a continuity offense where three guards (movers) are constantly running off of screens from the two bigs (blockers), and he was able to completely take UVA out of their offense by switching all exchanges, 1-through-5. Tony Bennett said at halftime that no one had done that against them before. Switching off-ball screening actions minimizes their effectiveness, especially when the bigs aren’t good enough to overpower the guards that are switched onto them:

This through Virginia for a loop early on, but they adjusted. This is when Bennett gets on the scorecard for the first time, because he totally scrapped his offense and started doing exactly what Duke does: He ran screen after screen after screen until he got the matchup he wanted — usually, Marques Bolden on Ty Jerome or De’Andre Hunter. Then he would lift the defense, send the big out to set a ball-screen and let the dribbler attack the space in the paint since Duke wasn’t leaving shooters:

Duke’s response?

They switched to a 2-3 zone for a number of possessions late in the second half, and it got Duke the win, but I do think that it’s important to note than Virginia entered this game as the nation’s seventh-best three-point shooting team and they missed three or four really good looks from three against that Duke zone. If those threes — the shots that Virginia wanted to get, mind you — go down, maybe I’m writing something different here.

They didn’t.

And Duke was able to land themselves the two-point win.

(One point that I think is important to add here: One of the things that people love to cite when they say that Tony Bennett will never be able to coach in the NBA is the offense that he runs. Well, in the second half, Virginia essentially ran the same offense that was run for the entirety of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. He simply moved players into screens to force switches into advantageous matchups, then he let his stars go and make a play. Oh, and should I mention that the Portland Trailblazers run the blocker-mover offense? Because they do.)

Anyway, the more important point about the Wahoos is that …

3. … DE’ANDRE HUNTER AND TY JEROME ARE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

After watching that game and rewatching much of the second half, I am more sold on the idea that this Virginia team is the team that can finally get to the Final Four.

No one is going to defend Virginia this season as well as Duke did on Saturday night. The Blue Devils schemed UVA out of everything they wanted to do offensively, and Virginia still gave Duke a fight in Cameron.

The point here isn’t to celebrate a moral victory — remember, Virginia won in Cameron last year and lost in the first round to UMBC. The point is that Hunter and Jerome are as good as any 1-2 punch in college hoops this side of Duke. They can create outside of the confines of Virginia’s system. They can take games over, as Hunter did for a stretch in the first half and as Jerome did for much of the second half. They are NBA players that are hidden by the slowest pace in the sport.

The point is that the concern people have about Virginia winning in March is that they are susceptible to losing to teams that can take them out of what they want to do. Duke did that, and Virginia came a couple of missed threes away from picking them off in Cameron.

Maybe Virginia is more matchup-proof than we realized.

4. DUKE DEFINITELY MISSED TRE JONES

It’s easy to hide flaws in a roster when the top two picks in the draft are able to put up  combined 57 points on 21-for-35 shooting against one of the best defenses in college basketball, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t chinks in the armor.

Part of the reason that Duke had to switch as much as they did on Saturday night, and part of the reason they were eventually forced to go to zone, is that Tre Jones’ defense wasn’t on the floor. Part of the reason that Duke had to play Marques Bolden for 33 minutes despite the fact that he was the guy that Virginia targeted every time they switched was because Tre Jones was on the bench. Part of the reason that Cam Reddish struggled to get things going was because there was no true point guard on the floor to initiate offense.

Duke is better with Tre Jones.

I don’t even think there is a question.

But when you have two dudes that are as good as Zion and RJ are, there are going to be a lot of games where it just doesn’t matter.

Monday’s Things To Know: Florida State rolls, Texas is back?

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There was some action on Monday night in the college basketball world, and we are here to talk you through all of it.

1. FLORIDA STATE’S SECOND HALF DEMOLITION OF LOUISVILLE IS SCARY

Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and the No. 6 Seminoles used a 42-16 tidal wave over the course of the final 15 minutes to turn a 51-40 deficit into an 82-67 win over No. 11 Louisville.

It was everything that you expect a Florida State team to be during that stretch. They forced turnovers, they switched everything defensively, they dared you to try and beat them in isolation, and they did it all while getting the kind of balanced effort that makes it impossible to key in on a single player. Five guys were in double-figures on Monday night, and that doesn’t include the eight points that Leonard Hamilton’s club got from Anthony Polite off the bench.

This program is a machine.

All they do is produce physical, tough, athletic wings that stand somewhere between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8, guard like their life depends on it and completely by in to what Leonard Hamilton is trying to do.

I would not want to see them in March.

2. TEXAS ISN’T DEAD YET

The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia, 67-57, despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres.

Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 15 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue and Oklahoma State, and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name.

Put another way, this team is suddenly very much in the bubble picture.

Now, I still think they have plenty of work to do, and given the fact that neither a road win at Oklahoma or a home win over Oklahoma State is going to change all that much for them, I think Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.

Regardless of what it actually is, the bottom line is pretty simple: Texas needs to keep on winning.

3. KANSAS ROLLS IN FIRST GAME AS NO. 1

The Jayhawks, in their first game as the No. 1 team in the country, did not have any kind of a letdown.

Udoka Azubuike finished with 19 points, 16 boards, three blocks, two assists and hit 7-for-8 from the free throw line in an 83-58 win over Oklahoma State in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 6 Florida State’s steamrolls No. 11 Louisville

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Trent Forrest scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime, and No. 6 Florida State rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat No. 11 Louisville 82-67 on Monday night.

The Seminoles (24-4, 14-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved past the Cardinals into first place in the ACC. They lead Louisville and No. 7 Duke by a half-game.

Patrick Williams’ thunderous dunk put an exclamation point to a 15-0 run that put the Seminoles ahead for good. Florida State outscored Louisville 50-27 in the second half and extended its home winning streak to 22 games.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Devin Vassell and M.J. Walker each scored 12 points for FSU, which set a school record for ACC regular-season wins with three remaining in the 20-game schedule.

Ryan McMahon scored 14 points and Jordan Nwora had 13 points and eight rebounds for Louisville (23-6, 14-4), which went more than seven minutes without a field goal during one second-half stretch.

The Cardinals played short-handed most of the night after junior center Malik Williams injured his left foot minutes into the game. He returned to the bench with a boot on the foot.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals shot well in the first half, making 52% before cooling off to 32% in the second.

Florida State: The Seminoles shot 50% in each half and overcame nine first-half turnovers to complete a season sweep of Louisville.

UP NEXT

Louisville hosts Virginia Tech on Sunday.

Florida State visits Clemson on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Ionescu first player to 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, 1,000 rebounds

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STANFORD, Calif. — Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu is the first player, man or woman, to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.

Ionescu hit the milestone on a defensive rebound with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter for the third-ranked Ducks against No. 3 Stanford on Monday night, only hours after she spoke at the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna, in Southern California.

Ionescu got to 1,000 assists in a win at UCLA on Feb. 14. She notched her NCAA-record 25th career triple-double at California on Friday night – also most in the men’s or women’s game. She came into Monday’s game needing nine rebounds for the 1,000 mark.

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry sat courtside for the second straight game to support Ionescu and women’s basketball.

Monday Overreactions: Kansas is great, San Diego State and Gonzaga are not

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back after a wild weekend in college basketball that saw three of the top four teams in the country lose on Saturday. They are here to talk through whether or not Kansas is actually a great team while explaining why you should (or should not) be concerned about San Diego State and Gonzaga after they lost to UNLV and BYU, respectively. Reags also tries to justify going full fanboy and taking and posting two pictures with Bill Raftery.

Bracketology: Kansas grabs No. 1 overall seed

NCAA tournament bracketology
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Here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Following its win at Baylor, Kansas grabs the No. 1 overall seed in today’s bracket update.  That said, it’s basically semantics. Kansas continues to lead the Midwest Region and Baylor the South Region.  The margin between the two is more of a 1-A and 1-B approach.

The biggest surprise of the weekend was San Diego State losing at home to UNLV.  For now, the Aztecs hold onto their No. 1 seed in the East.  Maryland could have made a strong case had the Terrapins won at Ohio State on Sunday.  Either way, the door is now open for a Big Ten, Big East, or ACC champion to potentially overtake SDSU. Dayton is squarely in the mix, too.

As for the Bubble, the Providence Friars and UCLA Bruins have both recovered from challenging starts to emerge as serious at-large contenders.

Anyway, here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology. If you’re looking for the NBC Sports Bubble Watch, it can be found here.



The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: February 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION Oklahoma vs. USC
SOUTH REGION Providence vs. Wichita State
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. ST. PETERS
MIDWEST REGION ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis SOUTH – Houston                    
Omaha St. Louis
1) KANSAS 1) Baylor
16) ROB MORRIS / NC A&T 16) PV-AM / ST. PETERS
8) ARIZONA STATE 8) LSU
9) Florida 9) Saint Mary’s
Sacramento Tampa
5) Auburn 5) Colorado
12) NORTHERN IOWA 12) Providence / Wichita St
4) Michigan 4) Penn State
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
St. Louis Albany
6) BYU 6) Iowa
11) Oklahoma / USC 11) Utah State
3) Creighton 3) SETON HALL
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 14) COLGATE
Greensboro Tampa
7) Wisconsin 7) Marquette
10) Rhode Island 10) Rutgers
2) Duke 2) Florida State
15) BELMONT 15) LITTLE ROCK
EAST – New York WEST – Los Angeles
Sacramento Spokane
1) SAN DIEGO ST 1) GONZAGA
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Indiana 8) Texas Tech
9) Virginia 9) Houston
Omaha Spokane
5) Ohio State 5) Michigan State
12) LIBERTY 12) S.F. AUSTIN
4) KENTUCKY 4) Oregon
13) YALE 13) NORTH TEXAS
Albany Cleveland
6) West Virginia 6) Butler
11) EAST TENNESSEE ST 11) CINCINNATI
3) Villanova 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) NEW MEXICO ST
Cleveland Tampa
7) Illinois 7) Arizona
10) NC State 10) Xavier
2) DAYTON 2) MARYLAND
15) HOFSTRA 15) UC-IRVINE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Rutgers Providence Stanford Alabama
NC State Wichita State UCLA Mississippi State
Rhode Island Oklahoma Memphis Arkansas
Utah State USC Richmond Georgetown

Top Seed Line

Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …

Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (5)
Big 12 (5)
SEC (4)
ACC (4)
West Coast (3)
American (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

OK, how good are you guys at NCAA tournament bracketology?

Not too bad. Our bracketologist, Dave Ommen, is sitting atop the ranks for the bracket matrix, which cobbles together everyone who does this for a living. So yeah, we’re on our game.

When do conference tournaments begin?

Conference tournaments — when teams can earn automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament — begin on Tuesday, March 3. Most of the league tournaments for that week are mid-major and low-major schools (though those can often be the most exciting games to watch).

There is a full schedule for all 32 conference tournaments here, though check back with us later on for previews for all those tournaments, recaps and highlights from the buzzer-beaters and many dunks for the start of March.

When do Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament begin?

Selection Sunday for the 2020 NCAA Tournament is on March 15 (about 4 pm ET), while the games begin a couple days later. The First Four is on March 17 and 18, while the craziness of Round 1 starts on Thursday, March 19.

The Final Four, held in Atlanta this year, starts on Saturday, April 4. The National Title Game is Monday, April 6.