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Syracuse’s Tyus Battle will reportedly miss time in ACC tournament with injury

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Syracuse star Tyus Battle will miss the Orange’s ACC tournament opener against Pitt on Wednesday, according to a report from Mike Waters of Syracuse.com.

Battle suffered a bruised hip during Syracuse’s game at Clemson over the weekend, and according to Waters, an MRI revealed no structural damage. But the junior guard was seen walking gingerly with ice packs on him after the game.

Waters also reports that if Syracuse advances past the Panthers on Wednesday that Battle would be doubtful to play against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals on Thursday.

Putting up a team-leading 17.2 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, the Orange’s offense could struggle without their best shot creator. While the Panthers are an ACC afterthought and Syracuse took both games from them during the season series, it’ll be interesting to see how the Orange play without their best player.

Williamson scores 25, No. 2 Duke shuts down Pitt 79-64

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PITTSBURGH — Zion Williamson hit his first 10 shots on his way to 25 points, fellow freshman RJ Barrett scored 26 and No. 2 Duke had little trouble with Pittsburgh in a 79-64 victory on Tuesday night.

Williamson finished 11 of 13 from the floor to go with seven rebounds and seven assists for the Blue Devils (16-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who kept the Panthers (12-7, 2-4) in check even without injured freshman guard Tre Jones. Duke held Pitt to 41 percent shooting, outrebounded the Panthers 39-34 and wasn’t in any real danger after a surge midway through the first half.

Trey McGowens led Pitt with 14 points, Jared Wilson-Frame and Terrell Brown added 12 each but the Panthers simply couldn’t match Duke’s size or firepower.

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel expected it to feel “weird” while facing Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Capel spent seven years as Krzyzewski’s top assistant before leaving to join the Panthers last spring, developing a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country.

Capel hopes to one day bring in the kind of talent to Pitt that now regularly flocks to the Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. He might, but not quite yet. The talent gulf between the two programs came into vivid detail once the early adrenaline — fueled in part by a sold-out crowd at raucous Petersen Events Center that included rap superstar Jay-Z — wore off and the Williamson went to work.

The Panthers actually led 16-15 early but Duke responded with a 12-0 run that showcased Williamson’s remarkable gifts. He hit a lay-up in traffic, drilled a 3-pointer and tipped in a Barrett miss to put the Blue Devils firmly in control and put the rest any concern about an emotional letdown following a taut victory over the Cavaliers.

Even while playing without Young, whom Capel considers one of the best defensive players in the ACC and who remains out while recovering from a shoulder injury, the Blue Devils steadily pulled away against the energetic if physically overmatched Panthers.

Pitt managed just nine points over the final 13 minutes of the opening half and unlike its upset wins over Florida State and Louisville earlier this month, the Panthers were unable to get to lane and get to the free-throw line. Duke’s massive frontcourt didn’t allow it. The taller, longer Blue Devils swallowed up whatever open space existed in the lane.

The Blue Devils led 44-25 at the break and Williamson hit all nine of his shots. He eventually missed one on his second attempt of the second half but it didn’t stop Duke’s lead from growing to as much as 23. When a mini-run by Pitt got the Panthers within 61-45 with 8:57 to play. Krzyzewski called timeout. Barrett drilled 3-pointer on Duke’s next possession and it was over.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils can guard when they want to even without Jones. The team that leads the nation in blocked shots swatted seven — right around Duke’s season average — and found an extra gear when it was required.

Pitt: Capel believes the Panthers are on a path that will return them to prominence. A talent upgrade is a must. For all the fight Pitt showed, the Panthers aren’t big enough or deep enough to hang with the ACC’s top tier quite yet.

UP NEXT

Duke: Host Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Pitt: Visits Louisville on Saturday. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 86-83 in overtime at home on Jan. 9.

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

Checking in on 2018’s biggest college basketball coaching hires

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We are now nearly two months into the college basketball season, with non-conference play just about done and the league schedule coming up on the horizon.

With that in mind, it is a perfect time to check in on how some of the biggest coaching hires around the country are doing. 

CHRIS MACK, Louisville

It’s hard to argue with the work Mack has done early on this season. The Cardinals are sitting at 9-3 on the season. They’ve knocked off Michigan State in overtime, a marquee win that is going to be at the top of their NCAA tournament resume three months from now. They won at Seton Hall, a pleasant surprise out of the Big East that could end up getting to the NCAA tournament. Their three losses have come against Tennessee, Marquette and at Indiana, all of whom are on track to go dancing; Tennessee and Marquette could win their league.

Mack could very well get this group to the NCAA tournament, and that’s to say nothing of just how good his recruiting class is coming in next season. Louisville fans are going to be very, very happy with this hire.

DAN HURLEY, UConn

In UConn’s third game of the season, the Huskies went into Madison Square Garden and knocked off then-No. 15 Syracuse. That was awesome. Since then, they’ve gotten smoked by Iowa and Villanova, lost at home to a mediocre Arizona and dropped a game in New Jersey to a really good Florida State. The 9-4 start is better than what was expected, but it’s also been something of a mixed bag.

That said, UConn is playing a new, more entertaining brand of basketball. Hurley has reinvigorated the fanbase. He’s recruiting his tail off. UConn is probably headed to the NIT, but I don’t think UConn fans are going to complain.

PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

The Tigers are 7-5 on the season, which is just about where we thought they would be heading into the year even if it is somewhat disappointing. The Tigers had a chance to knock off LSU on the road, Charleston and Texas Tech on a neutral court and whiffed.

But this isn’t the year that really matters, not when Penny has a young team that is going to be stocked with local talent — James Wiseman anyone? — in the coming years. The thing that matters is that he is selling out FedEx Forum again, and that’s not something that happened in recent seasons under Tubby Smith.

TOM CREAN, Georgia

Crean’s Bulldogs have not been great, but they have probably been better than what their record is. Their first three losses come on the road or neutral floors against good teams. They were up 18 points at home against Arizona State before they lost that game. They are coming off of a win at Georgia Tech, which is more about bragging rights than a resume, but a win is a win is a win. It will take time, but the early returns could certainly be worse.

JEFF CAPEL, Pitt

The Panthers haven’t really done anything this season besides land a win over Saint Louis on a neutral court. They lost at Iowa and at West Virginia. They lost to Niagara. Their two best wins are against Atlantic 10 teams. But coming off of a winless ACC season, they are 9-3 on the season. It’s hard to complain too much about that.

TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

Steele has finished his first non-conference season, and it certainly could have been worse. The Musketeers beat just about every team they were supposed to beat, including a win over Illinois on a neutral floor. The problem is they didn’t really beat anyone of note and lost all five games against teams with a shot at an at-large — Wisconsin, Auburn, San Diego State, Cincinnati and Missouri. The silver lining is that all five of those losses came away from the Cintas Center.

KERMIT DAVIS, Ole Miss

Are the Rebels a team that we need to keep an eye on? They are currently sitting with a 9-2 record and just one non-conference game left on their schedule. They’ve beaten Baylor on a neutral, won at Illinois State and picked off a good San Diego team. Their only two losses came at Butler and against Cincinnati on a neutral court.

BEST OF THE REST

For the most part, taking over a new job is never going to be an easy endeavor. There’s usually a reason the jobs open up in the first place, and it’s not normally because the coach that was there the previous season was hired by a bigger school.

Here are four names off the beaten path that are excelling in their first year at a new program.

DARIAN DEVRIES, Drake: Devries walked into a pretty good situation. He took over for Niko Medved, a notorious program builder that was in charge for just one year before taking Colorado State, and has thrived. Drake is 10-2 on the season after wins over a pair of good teams in New Mexico State and San Diego in the Las Vegas Classic. With the Missouri Valley wide open this season, the Bulldogs are a team to keep an eye on.

JUSTIN HUTSON, Fresno State: We all thought that San Diego State would be the threat to Nevada in the Mountain — and they might be — but on paper, Fresno State is one of the two teams (we’ll get to the other in a second) that looks capable of picking off the conference’s headliner. The Bulldogs are 9-2 on the season with wins over Cal, Northwestern and Weber State, and they are still missing their best player, Deshon Taylor.

SAM SCHOLL, San Diego: Things were going better for the Toreros if they had pulled off the overtime win against Drake on Sunday night, but they couldn’t get it done. They’re now 10-4 on the season, but their first three losses came against Washington, Ole Miss and Oregon.

CRAIG SMITH, Utah State: The Aggies are the other Mountain West team that we need to keep an eye on. Off to a 9-3 start under Craig Smith, USU has a nice win over Saint Mary’s and a good mid-major foe in UC Irvine. There was a chance that the Aggies could earn an at-large bid, but they whiffed on chances against Arizona State, BYU and Houston.

Pitt continues rebuilding efforts with top-150 recruit

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When Jeff Capel took the Pitt head coaching job earlier this spring, the Panthers were reeling and the roster was practically gutted.

A program already lacking in talent after finishing last in the ACC, the Panthers were facing significant potential transfer losses and the lack of any sort of recruiting class. After a few months on the job, Capel and his staff have built a roster that is at least capable of remaining somewhat competitive next season while laying a potential foundation for the future.

Saturday’s commitment from top-150 guard Au’Diese Toney is yet another step in Pitt’s on-the-fly rebuild. A Class of 2019 prospect who is planning on reclassifying into the college basketball next season, the 6-foot-6 Toney is a versatile perimeter player who could wind up being used in multiple spots.

Toney is the third high school player Capel has landed in recent months to go along with four-star guard Trey McGowans and three-star guard Xavier Johnson. Considering the slim pickings of the spring recruiting cycle for unsigned seniors, and Pitt has done about as well as they could have hoped heading into next season when it comes to recruiting.

Since Capel was also able to convince a few players to stay, most notably leading scorer Jared Wilson-Frame, he’ll also have some ACC experience coming back. Nobody is expecting Pitt to make any kind of dent in the loaded ACC next season. They at least have a future that looks a lot brighter than before.

Capel and his staff haven’t even been able to recruit a class of high school players for a full year yet. And with Capel’s ability to help land top-flight talent during his assistant coaching tenure at Duke, it’ll be fascinating to see if four-star and five-star prospects start to take Pitt seriously as an option once again.

At the very least, Pitt won’t be a total pushover as they have some enticing pieces for the future.