In the days leading into the NCAA tournament, West region No. 13 seed UNCW was one team people labeled as a possibility to pull an upset. Kevin Keatts’ team had depth and a full-court pressure system that could give a Duke team that lacked depth problems. What the Seahawks didn’t have was a big man who could handle senior 7-footer Marshall Plumlee, who rebounded from a subpar first half to help lead the Blue Devils to a 93-85 win in Providence.
Plumlee finished the game with 23 points and eight rebounds, with the point total being a career-high, and he made nine of his ten field goal attempts on the day.
Plumlee was more aggressive in the second half, with the majority of his points coming off of pick and rolls and offensive rebounds. His improved play influenced Duke’s other players as well, as the Blue Devils did a better job of attacking the UNCW pressure. There were more shot attempts around the rim for Mike Krzyzewski’s team, and they attempted 27 free throws in the second half against a team that committed more fouls than any other Division I program this season.
Brandon Ingram, who was a matchup problem for the Seahawks in his own right, finished with 20 points and nine rebounds and Grayson Allen tallied 23 points himself. Duke outscored UNCW 31-14 from the foul line, with Ingram (ten points) and Allen (15) responsible for 25 of those points. UNCW couldn’t turn the Blue Devils over enough, and they struggled with stopping Duke off the dribble as well.
Senior guard Craig Ponder led four Seahawks in double figures with 22 points, with Chris Flemmings adding 18, Denzel Ingram 17 and C.J. Bryce 16.
Next up for Duke, which extended its NCAA tournament win streak to seven with this victory, will be either No. 5 sed Baylor or No. 12 seed Yale on Saturday.
Lack of front court depth, rebounding cost No. 9 Duke
With their lack of depth, No. 9 Duke is bound to have some issues to navigate on the defensive end of the floor. With just one dependable big man in Marshall Plumlee with Amile Jefferson still out with a foot injury, there’s only so much the Blue Devils can do when faced with a productive big man. Against Notre Dame that “big” man was 6-foot-5 power forward Bonzie Colson, who came off the bench and put forth the best performance of his career in a 95-91 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Colson scored a career-high 31 points, shooting 12-for-19 from the field, and also grabbing 11 rebounds. Colson was effective setting screens for the Notre Dame guards, most notably Demetrius Jackson, and either rolling to the basket or popping out for perimeter shot opportunities. But where both he and Zach Auguste, who finished with nine points (would have been more if not for his issues finishing around the basket) and 14 rebounds, hurt Duke the most was on the offensive glass.
Eight of Colson’s 11 rebounds came on the offensive end, and the Notre Dame front court tandem combined to grab 12 of the team’s 16 offensive rebounds. Those were converted into 18 second chance points, a key reason why Notre Dame attempted 16 more field goals. And for a team that lacks depth as Duke does, that extra time spent defending can add up by game’s end.
So what can Duke do at this point, with the timetable for Jefferson’s return still being undefined? Most likely, they’ll have to ask for even more from already productive players such as Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen.
In theory a coach would like to be able to look down the bench and grab another big man capable of helping out for a few minutes here and there. But neither Chase Jeter nor Sean Obi have shown themselves capable of doing so to this point in the season. That leaves Mike Krzyzewski stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to his rotation. Plumlee finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks, doing a good job of making many of Auguste’s attempts around the basket difficult, and Luke Kennard chipped in with eight rebounds in addition to his career-high 30 points.
But with just one bonafide big man, closing out possessions and defending ball screens will be tough for Duke, which has looked to mix in some zone in recent games. If Duke is to remain part of the ACC race until Jefferson returns, the guards will have to contribute even more on the glass. And even if that does happen, it may not be enough as Duke doesn’t have a big man capable of defending ball screens at Jefferson’s level.
Second-half offense, foul trouble cost No. 9 Duke at Clemson
Another day, and another team ranked in the top ten takes a loss. Wednesday night it was No. 9 Duke’s turn, as the Blue Devils struggled not only with foul trouble but offensively as well in the second half of their 68-63 loss to Clemson.
Brad Brownell’s Tigers, who put together a rather nondescript résumé in non-conference play, has now beaten ranked teams in consecutive games for the first time since 1989 and they’re 4-1 in ACC play. The game turned with Duke big man Marshall Plumlee picked up his fourth foul with just over ten minutes remaining in the second half. From there the Blue Devils had to call upon freshman Chase Jeter, who promptly picked up his third and fourth fouls shortly after replacing Plumlee.
Clemson was able exploit Duke’s front court foul trouble, whether Duke was playing man or using a 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone. The Tigers found gaps in both zones, getting on a roll offensively that proved too much for the Blue Devils to overcome. It goes without saying that, even with their success in recent weeks, Duke misses Amile Jefferson. He was their most reliable front court option before going down with a foot injury, and his absence makes it even more important for Plumlee to remain out of foul trouble and he’s avoided that issue in most games.
That didn’t happen against a Clemson front line that featured Jaron Blossomgame, Landry Nnoko and Donte Grantham, with Blossomgame accounting for 17 points and six rebounds, Grantham adding 16 points and Nnoko posting a double-double of 12 points and 13 boards.
What was of greater issue for Duke was the offense, as they struggled to establish much of a flow in the second half. Clemson was able to keep Blue Devils other than Grayson Allen under wraps for most of the second half. Allen shot 5-for-6 from the field and scored 12 of Duke’s 28 second-half points; his teammates combined to shoot 6-for-19. And with the Tigers being one of the nation’s best at not sending opponents to the foul line (13th in defensive free throw rate), the visitors were unable to find many points from the charity stripe (2-for-7 FT) to make up for those scoring woes.
Duke’s second half performance is concerning, as their depth issues aren’t going to change until Jefferson returns and even then they’ll still lack much margin for error when it comes to either fouls or injuries. Clemson’s front court took advantage of this, and with their guards stepping forward to hit some big shots late the Tigers were able to pick up a second consecutive win over a ranked opponent.
WEEKLY AWARDS: USC’s race towards relevancy, while Brice Johnson leads UNC again
Twice this week Johnson was the best player on the floor as the Tar Heels went on the road to knock off a pair of potential NCAA tournament teams in Florida State and Syracuse. Against the Seminoles, he put together one of the most dominant performances that we’ve seen in college basketball in a long time: 39 points, 23 boards, three steals and three blocks while shooting 14-for-16 from the floor in a 106-90 win. He controlled the paint defensively, he dominated the offensive glass and he finished every dump down or lob he received.
Against Syracuse, his impact was different. He had just 16 points and four boards, but his eight assists were absolutely eviscerated the Orange zone, setting up Isaiah Hicks for his 21-point outburst. The Tar Heels needed all of those assists as well, as they won by 11 but trailed 56-50 late in the second half.
And while I get that your thinking may be, ‘It’s Florida State and Syracuse. Yawn!’ remember that Virginia, who entered this week ranked one spot ahead of North Carolina in the AP Poll, also went on the road twice this week, losing to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, neither of whom looked destined to even be in the bubble conversation before landing that win.
Winning on the road in league play is never an easy thing to do, and Johnson made sure that the Tar Heels picked up a pair of those wins this week.
THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield could have easily been the Player of the Week. He had 31 points, eight boards, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a win over Kansas State on Saturday which followed his 46 points, eight board and seven assist performance in the triple-overtime loss to No. 1 Kansas. We went with Johnson because UNC went 2-0 this week.
Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford averaged 21.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 boards in a pair of wins this week. That included 25 points, six assists, four boards, no turnovers and the game-winning three-pointer in a win over Arizona at Pauley Pavilion, all of which happened in front of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart posted a pair of double-doubles this week, capped by a 22-point, 11-board performance in Villanova’s win at Butler on Sunday night.
Marshall Plumlee, Duke: Plumlee played the best basketball of his Duke career this week. After going for 18 points and seven boards in a win at Wake Forest, Plumlee posted 21 points and 10 boards as the Blue Devils dispatched Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mo Watson, Creighton: Creighton made a statement this week with impressive wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall, and Watson was the catalyst, posted 27 points and four assists against the Hoyas and 13 points and 14 assists at Seton Hall.
BENCH: Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson), Ben Moore (SMU)
TEAM OF THE WEEK: USC Trojans
Dunk City West is starting to come to fruition.
The Trojans picked up two huge wins this week, knocking off Arizona State at home before beating No. 7 Arizona in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Saturday night. The two wins moved Andy Enfield’s club to 3-1 in Pac-12 play, a record that would be perfect had they not blown a 22-point second half lead at Washington last week, a collapse that was spurred on when their most important player, Julian Jacobs, left the game with an ankle injury.
It may be too early to truly call USC a Pac-12 contender (their next three games — at UCLA, at Oregon and at Oregon State — will give us that answer) but what’s clear is that this is going to be a team that is far more relevant to the conference race this season than we expected. For the most part, USC was thought to be a year away from mattering heading into the season, but now that we’re at the midway point, it seems clear this team isn’t going anywhere.
The thing that gets you with this USC team: their balance. Six guys average double-figures and five of them are scoring between 12.2 and 12.9 points. Pick your poison.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
SMU: The Mustangs remained undefeated on Sunday with a blowout win over UCF, but it was their come-from-behind win over Cincinnati — when they only had six scholarship players left — that got them on this list.
Baylor: The Bears made a statement this week, going into Hilton Coliseum and knocking off Iowa State despite trailing by double-figures in the second half. That came after they whipped Oklahoma State in a game where they grabbed 23 of a possible 34 offensive rebounds.
Pitt: It’s time to start taking the Panthers seriously. They’re now 15-1 on the season after beating Georgia Tech at home and knocking off Notre Dame in South Bend.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles may have changed the course of their season on Tuesday when they went into Providence and knocked off the Friars. They followed that up with a win over St. John’s at home.
Clemson: The Tigers moved to 3-1 in ACC play this week as they knocked off Louisville and and won at Syracuse.
SET YOUR DVR
No. 12 Miami at No. 4 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 1 Kansas at No. 17 West Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 19 Iowa at No. 5 Michigan State, Thu. 7:00 p.m.
No. 24 Pitt at No. 16 Louisville, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
No. 17 West Virginia at No. 2 Oklahoma, 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Duke beats Virginia Tech 82-58 for 3-0 ACC start
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Marshall Plumlee scored a career-high 21 points and No. 14 Duke burst out of the gate with an outside-shooting flurry to beat Virginia Tech 82-58 on Saturday.
Freshman Brandon Ingram added 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks for the Blue Devils (14-2, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who hit their first four 3-pointers and had seven in the opening seven minutes. That was part of a strong start in which the Blue Devils were on the attack and the Hokies (10-6, 2-1) looked a bit tentative and unsure.
That mix allowed the Blue Devils to quickly turn this one into a rout, rolling to a 12-2 lead on the way to a 27-point halftime margin.
Duke cooled off from outside but still finished the game shooting 47 percent. The Blue Devils also used their length to finish with eight blocked shots and a 42-33 rebounding advantage.
Plumlee, a 7-foot graduate student, gave Duke another welcome show of production that was far more than being solely an interior defender or rebounder.
Three days after setting a career high with 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting at Wake Forest, Plumlee finished 6 for 7 from the field and made 9 of 10 free throws – not bad for a guy who came in shooting 56 percent at the line – to go with 10 rebounds and two blocks.
The Hokies entered Cameron Indoor Stadium with only their second 2-0 start in ACC play, first by rallying from 16 down to beat North Carolina State in overtime, then by upsetting No. 4 Virginia at home on Monday night. But Duke squashed any hope of another upset, starting when Ingram knocked down 3-pointers – both wide open – from the left wing on Duke’s first two possessions.
Duke didn’t manage its first basket inside the arc until Plumlee’s dunk off an offensive rebound at the 9:31 mark.
Zach LeDay had 18 points and nine rebounds to lead Virginia Tech, which finished the game shooting 38 percent – a total that got a boost long after the outcome was decided.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 28 percent (8 for 29) in the opening half. … They missed their first 11 3s and didn’t hit one until the 4:11 mark of the game, finishing 1 for 12. … No. 2 scorer Seth Allen came in averaging 14.5 points but finished with three on 1-for-9 shooting.
Duke: Grayson Allen also scored 16. … Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera attended and drew hearty cheers when introduced during a timeout for his visit on a “well-deserved day off.” His team went 15-1 to earn a bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. … Duke held a moment of silence in honor of late former coach Bill Foster, who died this week.
Rarely does a game decided on a free throw receive this kind of designation. But CSU managed to win despite trailing by five with just over a minute remaining, with redshirt freshman J.D. Paige scoring seven of the Rams’ final eight points and John Gillon hitting the game-winning free throw with 1.1 seconds remaining to clinch the win. This one’s going to sting for the Runnin’ Rebels, who start Mountain West play for a second straight year.
No. 14 Duke 91, Wake Forest 75: Wake Forest grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and scored 20 second-chance points, but still lost with the Blue Devils running away late. Why? Second-half foul trouble for Devin Thomas, who was nearly unstoppable in the post, and Duke receiving key contributions from two unsung heroes.
No. 11 Villanova 72, Seton Hall 63: The Wildcats moved to 3-0 in the Big East with a nine-point win over the Pirates at The Pavilion. Daniel Ochefu was dominant in the post with 20 points and 18 rebounds, and Josh Hart added 15 and ten for the winners. Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono added 11 apiece for Villanova, which outscored Seton Hall 26-15 from the foul line.
Oregon 68, California 65: Just a couple hours after it was announced that guard Dylan Ennis would miss the remainder of the season, Oregon picked up its first Pac-12 win of the season with a three-point triumph over previously undefeated (in conference play) Cal. Chris Boucher scored 18 points and Tyler Dorsey 17 for the Ducks, who won despite shooting 40.7 percent from the field. The difference: Oregon shot 7-for-21 from three, which isn’t good but was much better than Cal’s 0-for-12 night.
Northern Illinois’ Marin Maric: Maric scored 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field and grabbed 14 rebounds in a win over Ohio.
Duke’s Marshall Plumlee and Luke Kennard: Kennard scored 23 points off the bench and Plumlee shot 7-for-7 from the field, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds, in the Blue Devils’ win at Wake Forest.
Villanova’s Daniel Ochefu: The senior big man accounted for 20 points and 18 rebounds in a win over Seton Hall.
Bradley: In their 65-44 loss to Southern Illinois the Braves made 14 field goals. That was half their turnover count of 28. SIU coughed the ball up 18 times, but they were a lot better offensively than their hosts.
California’s Jordan Mathews: One of the country’s best shooters had a rough night in Eugene, going scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting in a loss at Oregon.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
No. 3 Maryland did what was expected and rolled to an 88-63 win over Rutgers in College Park. Jake Layman scored 18 points and Robert Carter and Rasheed Sulaimon added 15 apiece for the Terrapins.
No. 10 Xavier, once again playing without the injured Edmond Sumner, held off St. John’s 74-66 in Queens. Myles Davis, manning the point in place of Sumner, scored 19 points and Trevon Bluiett 18 for the Musketeers.
Matt Thomas scored a career-high 22 points to lead No. 13 Iowa State to a 76-69 win over Texas Tech. The Cyclones had to navigate three first-half fouls for Georges Niang to get their first Big 12 win of the season.
No. 21 Texas A&M escaped Starkville with a win, beating Mississippi State 61-60. D.J. Hogg, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso scored 11 points apiece for the Aggies, who were without leading scorer Danuel House (attending to a personal matter in Texas).
No. 24 Pittsburgh moved to 13-1 on the season with an 89-84 win over Georgia Tech. Jamel Artis and James Robinson scored 18 apiece, with Robinson dishing out eight assists for the Panthers.
No. 25 Dayton remained undefeated in A-10 play with a 93-63 win over UMass. Charles Cooke led six Flyers in double figures with 18 points.
OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS
J.J. Frazier accounted for 16 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead Georgia to a 77-59 win over Missouri.
Sam Hughes scored 21 points and Kevin Vannatta 20 as UNC Asheville erased an 18-point halftime deficit to beat Winthrop 85-84. Keon Johnson led the Eagles with a game-high 23.
Tennessee scored 53 first half points in their 83-69 win over Florida. Kevin Punter was once again productive for the Volunteers, finishing with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Mike Crawford scored 20 points in Saint Louis’ 65-62 upset of George Washington. The Colonials turned the ball over 17 times on the night to just nine for SLU.
Evan Wessel and Zach Brown both hit key shots down the stretch as Wichita State held off Evansville 67-64. Neither had made a field goal on the night prior to their respective baskets.
Southern Illinois moved to 14-2 on the season with a 65-44 win at Bradley.
A Dequon Miller basket in the final seconds gave Missouri State a 59-58 win over Northern Iowa. The Panthers dropped to 1-2 in Missouri Valley play with the defeat.
Northern Illinois moved to 12-2 with an 80-69 win over Ohio in the MAC opener for both. Marin Maric scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Travon Baker went for 25 and four assists for NIU.
Kam Williams scored 21 points to help lead Ohio State to a 65-56 win at Northwestern in a game matching teams looking to put together NCAA tournament-worthy résumés.
Joe Rosga scored 17 points to lead four players in double figures as Denver beat Oral Roberts, 78-75.
San Diego State moved to 3-0 in Mountain West play with a 77-62 win over San Jose State. Jeremy Hemsley scored 20 points and Winston Shepard and Zylan Cheatham added 17 apiece for the Aztecs.