raphiellej

Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Duke and Florida State roll, Garrison Brooks shows out

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The 2018-19 college basketball season officially began Tuesday night with a slate headlined by the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. No. 4 Duke absolutely demolished No. 2 Kentucky in the nightcap, with top-ranked Kansas holding off No. 10 Michigan State in the first game of the night. Below are three things you need to know about Tuesday’s action.

1. DUKE MADE A MAJOR STATEMENT

No. 4 Duke’s matchup with No. 2 Kentucky was supposed to be the game of the night. Instead we ended up watching the basketball version of Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed, as the Blue Devils rolled to a 118-84 victory in what is the largest margin of defeat for a John Calipari-coached team (that includes his stints at UMass and Memphis). Freshmen R.J. Barrett (33 points, six assists, four rebounds), Zion Williamson (28 points, seven rebounds) and Cam Reddish (22 points) combined to score 83 points, with classmate Tre Jones dishing out a team-high seven assists.

Duke shot 54.4 percent from the field on the night, and Kentucky looked overwhelmed outside of freshman guard Keldon Johnson (23 points) and senior forward Reid Travis (22 points, seven rebounds). While top-ranked Kansas managed to open its season with a win, don’t be surprised if some voters put Duke atop their rankings ahead of Monday’s new polls. And they wouldn’t be wrong to do that either, because the Blue Devils looked that good.

2. KANSAS LOOKED EVERY BIT AS GOOD AS WE EXPECTED

It’s going to fly all the way under the radar because, you know, Duke actually is the Golden State Warriors, but the No. 1 Jayhawks looked like the No. 1 team in the country on Tuesday night. Despite the fact that Dedric Lawson, their best player, had one of those nights where he seemingly couldn’t get a single shot to drop, the Jayhawks still managed to take control and keep control in a 92-87 win over No. 10 Michigan State. It wasn’t until the final minutes that the Spartans, who resorted to ‘Hack-a-Doke’ down the stretch, made things interesting, and even then, they never actually had the ball with the lead down to a single possession.

Duke is going to deservedly be the No. 1 team in the country when the polls come out on Monday, but that doesn’t mean Kansas is anything less than what they were advertised as.

3. PLAYING WITHOUT PHIL COFER, NO. 17 FLORIDA STATE WHIPPED FLORIDA

Someone on staff made the bold prediction Monday that Florida could be the currently unranked team that gets to the Final Four. The Gators looked nothing like that kind of team Tuesday night, and a lot of credit for that should go to Florida State. Playing without senior forward Phil Cofer, the Seminoles beat the Gators by an 81-60 final score in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. Leonard Hamilton’s squad shot nearly 48 percent from the field, made 11 three-pointers and limited Florida to 37.0 percent shooting.

P.J. Savoy led three double-digit scorers with 20 points, and Trent Forrest played well with 13 points and a team-high five assists. Once Cofer returns, Florida State could be even better than anticipated…and many held this team in high regard even before Tuesday’s win. As for Florida, the biggest concern has to be the play of senior guard KeVaughn Allen. In 23 minutes of action Allen was scoreless, missing all four of his field goal attempts. Consistency has been an issue throughout his career, but unlike last year’s team Florida does not have much margin for error in that regard. Jalen Hudson (11 points on 3-for-10 shooting) wasn’t great either, but he at least produced something. Florida really needs Allen to be at his best consistently if they’re to hold their own in an improved SEC this season.

4. GARRISON BROOKS STEPS UP IN NO. 8 NORTH CAROLINA’S WIN AT WOFFORD

North Carolina, a team expected to contend in the ACC and nationally, boasts one of the nation’s best players in senior forward Luke Maye. But while much of the “who else will contribute in the front court” conversation has been focused on five-star freshman Nassir Little, another option stepped forward in North Carolina’s 78-67 win at Wofford. Sophomore Garrison Brooks played extremely well for the Tar Heels, shooting 9-for-15 from the field and finishing with 20 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. That contribution, along with the 24 and seven boards from Maye and Cameron Johnson’s 17 points, was enough to propel North Carolina past a Wofford team whose best scorer (Fletcher Magee) struggled from the field.

The point total represents a new career high for Brooks, who scored 14 in his collegiate debut against Northern Iowa last season. The key for the 6-foot-9 sophomore is to build on his standout performance, something he’ll have a chance to do when North Carolina takes on Elon Friday night.

Report: NCAA given OK to investigate teams mentioned in corruption scandal

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With the college basketball regular season getting underway Tuesday night, this was a good time for a rather significant news dump.

Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the FBI has given the NCAA the OK to begin investigating some of the programs that have been mentioned during the recent cases on corruption and bribes in college basketball recruiting. Among the programs mentioned during the first trial were Louisville, Kansas and NC State.

Tuesday’s development is big because the NCAA will likely have access to information that it may not have been able to procure without the FBI investigation. The NCAA does not have subpoena power, which has a significant impact on investigations that involve former athletes, coaches or individuals who have no connection to an athletic department, as they cannot be forced to speak to NCAA investigators.

Last month former adidas basketball executive James Gatto, former adidas grassroots basketball employee Merl Code Jr. and former runner/aspiring agent Christian Dawkins were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. While Gatto and Code were found guilty of two counts, Dawkins was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The lawyers for all three plan to appeal the verdicts in the coming months.

There are two more rounds of trials in connection with the FBI investigation that have yet to begin, with those scheduled for February and April. Among the men indicted who have yet to be tried are former Division I assistant coaches Tony Bland (USC), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Chuck Person (Auburn) and Emmanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona).

Michigan State needs ‘2nd half Langford and McQuaid’ to reach full potential

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After winning the Big Ten regular season title a season ago, No. 10 Michigan State bid farewell to two of its top three scorers in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. While Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are back, and will be expected to once again be major contributors, the Spartans do need to find players capable to help account for the production lost.

Michigan State’s 92-87 loss to top-ranked Kansas Tuesday night in Indianapolis was a mixed bag of sorts. While the first half exposed the Spartans a bit offensively, as they were unable to withstand the Jayhawk onslaught, there were positives to be taken from the second half.

Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid, who combined to score just six points in the first half, accounted for 24 in the second as Michigan State mounted its charge. Both were run off of screens away from the ball, either to receive the ball immediately or via a second pass, on multiple occasions and this approach benefitted the Michigan State offense. After shooting just 34.6 percent from the field in the first half, Michigan State made 51.5 percent of its shots in the second half.

And this wasn’t solely about the in-game improvements of Langford and McQuaid, either. Senior forward Kenny Goins was solid throughout, scoring 17 points on 5-for-11 shooting (3-for-8 3PT) while also grabbing a team-best 11 rebounds. With Winston and Ward struggling with their shots, going a combined 5-for-18 from the field, the production of Goins kept the door open ever so slightly for a comeback.

The Spartans fell short in this regard, with Kansas sealing the outcome with two free throws in the final seconds, but the fact that Tom Izzo’s team was able to get back into the game after a poor first half is something to build on.

Given their track records, Winston and Ward shouldn’t shoot as poorly as they did Tuesday night in future games. But even if that is the case, Michigan State will need others to step up offensively if they’re to retain the Big Ten title and potentially play deep into the NCAA tournament. The second half performance of Langford and McQuaid is something that Michigan State can build upon moving forward.

But that will only happen if the production is consistent over the course of a full game, which was not the case against Kansas.

VIDEO: Texas guard Andrew Jones makes return to college basketball

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Texas guard Andrew Jones returned to the court for the first time since getting diagnosed with leukemia in January.

After playing for two minutes, the junior guard went to the foul line, where he made the second free throw, prompting a standing ovation as head coach Shaka Smart pulled him out of the game:

Texas would go on to beat Eastern Illinois 71-59.

Top-ranked Kansas takes care of No. 10 Michigan State

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The opening game of the Champions Classic between No. 1 Kansas and No. 10 Michigan State offered up more drama than expected late, but the Jayhawks managed to hang on for the 92-87 victory in the regular season opener for both teams.

While Kansas’ improved depth has been one reason why they’ve been viewed as an early favorite to cut down the nets in April, the Jayhawks’ stars were the difference makers against Michigan State. Freshman guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson performed well on the perimeter, combining to score 37 points (21 for Grimes), with Dedric Lawson adding 20 points and 14 rebounds and Udoka Azubuike scoring 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field.

The Champions Classic tends to be a good early season litmus test for newcomers, as they are being tested against high-level talent in a big-game environment. But while there’s still plenty of work to be done, neither Dotson nor Grimes looked to be bothered by the big stage Tuesday night. Grimes’ smooth shooting stroke produced six three-pointers, four coming in the first stanza, giving Kansas perimeter production during a half in which it managed to score 26 points in the paint.

Michigan State didn’t have much of an answer for Kansas in the first half, and that includes the dynamic between Lawson and Azubuike.

The addition of Lawson, who averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game at Memphis in 2016-17, gives Kansas a player who can not only score on multiple levels but can also be used as another creator off of the dribble. On multiple occasions Kansas was able to run the two-man game with Lawson and Azubuike, a dynamic that last year’s Final Four team lacked.

Lawson didn’t shoot particularly well Tuesday night, finishing 5-for-18 from the field, but he was able to get to the foul line (8-for-10), control the glass and dish out a game-high six assists. Lawson isn’t going to make a habit of shooting that poorly this season, and his entire set of skills make the redshirt junior an incredibly tough matchup to deal with. And his presence opens things up for a 7-footer in Azubuike outplayed Michigan State’s big men Tuesday night.

Azubuike, who led the nation in field goal percentage last season, had little trouble getting to his spots within the Kansas offense. While there were some instances of the junior center having both feet planted in the paint, there were others where he had to do some work after receiving the entry pass. And his strength was too much for Michigan State to deal with, regardless of which big they sent Azubuike’s way.

There may be occasions when he shares the court with a David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa (if he’s cleared), but those pairings may not happen very often given how well Azubuike and Lawson appear to work together. And as the freshman guards continue to mature, Kansas should be an even tougher team to deal with than they were for much of Tuesday’s season opener.

UAB guard Jeremiah Bell granted immediate eligibility waiver

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Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the team’s season opener against Mercer, UAB announced that the NCAA has granted the hardship waiver request filed on behalf of guard Jeremiah Bell.

As a result Bell, who averaged 14.2 points per game last season at Milwaukee, will be eligible to compete immediately.

“We are all extremely happy that Jeremiah has been granted eligibility to begin playing with us this season,” UAB head coach Robert Ehsan said in the release. “He has been a great teammate in practice and has driven his fellow teammates to continue to get better each day. I am really looking forward to getting to use him moving forward, as his leadership and presence on the court will be invaluable for our team.”

A 6-foot-1 guard from Louisville, Bell shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc last season. A second team All-Horizon League selection in 2017-18, Bell will have one season of eligibility to use at UAB.