No. 20 Virginia Tech knocks off No. 3 Duke as Blue Devil defense struggles without Zion

Lauren Rakes/Getty Images

Virginia Tech scored an impressive victory over No. 3 Duke on Tuesday night as the No. 20 Hokies held off a late charge for a 77-72 ACC home win. The win for Virginia Tech is a massive one for its NCAA tournament profile while the loss for the Blue Devils means they’re no longer tied with Virginia and North Carolina atop the ACC standings.

The loss hurts Duke from an ACC perspective, but the nation has been mostly focused on the health and status of Blue Devil freshman star Zion Williamson — who missed Tuesday’s game with the knee sprain suffered last week against North Carolina.

Without Williamson for, essentially, the third straight game, Duke has been forced to make adjustments on both ends of the floor. The offensive adjustments have been well-documented. Fellow freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish are now carrying a gigantic offensive workload without Zion in the lineup. Duke’s other role players have struggled to step up and hit shots. That even prompted the Blue Devils to burn freshman Joey Baker’s redshirt to see if he could help against the Syracuse zone on Saturday.

But while the offense has needed to make adjustments without Williamson, it’s been Duke’s defense that has arguably suffered more without the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.

On Tuesday, Duke had its worst defensive performance of the season, as they gave up 77 points on 63 possessions — which amounts to 1.222 points per possession. For perspective, Duke’s previous worst defensive game of the season came against Gonzaga (on the softest of rims on the planet) at the Maui Invitational — and that game was at 1.208 points per possession.

And Virginia Tech hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut without senior point guard Justin Robinson. The Hokies are a very respectable No. 13 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom. But they’ve also had to scrap and claw without Robinson as backup floor general Wabissa Bede is more of a defensive-minded player. A team that plays dreadfully slow put up 77 points on Duke — a number Virginia Tech hasn’t reached since Robinson went down with injury on Jan. 30.

Without Williamson’s defensive presence on the floor, Duke has particularly struggled to force steals — which they were doing at a nation-leading 13.7 percent before the North Carolina game. Against Syracuse, the Blue Devils only mustered two steals. In the loss to Virginia Tech, that number dropped to only one. For a team averaging over 10 steals per game entering Tuesday, that’s a gigantic drop, and it’s added even more pressure on Duke’s half-court offense to perform without Williamson.

The unique shot-blocking presence of Williamson has also been sorely missed. Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. — one of the ACC’s hottest players who the Hokies should be playing through on every possession — dominated the Blue Devil bigs. As Blackshear (23 points, 10 rebounds, 7-for-11 shooting) was able to take his time and establish post position, Duke bigs had no chance of stopping him one-on-one.

Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier both did a respectable job of trying to establish position to contain Blackshear one-on-one. But the missing threat of Williamson’s weakside shot-blocking was noticeable in this one. Duke’s double-teams were slow to react and Blackshear was able to take long periods of time establishing position and going to work. Bolden becomes Duke’s only rim protector without Williamson in the lineup, and he can only do so much on his own if a player like Blackshear can continually get that comfortable.

The freakish athleticism of Williamson allows him to play as a sort of free safety when Duke is on defense, as he can cover ground and swallow up shots as well as anyone in the country. Just ask De’Andre Hunter. But without Williamson in the lineup, Duke’s turnover-producing defense hasn’t shown an ability to generate the takeaways that lead to easy buckets.

If Duke wants to be in the national title picture, they desperately need a healthy Williamson to re-enter the lineup so that they can get back to previous levels on both ends of the floor. Everyone loves to focus on the dunks and the offensive highlights, but Williamson’s impact is felt all over the floor for Duke when he’s out.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.