Biggest College Basketball Injuries of the 2017 Season

In college basketball, injuries are inevitable. Teams hope for the best and fear the worst when a player goes down. The phrase “out for season” is one that sends shivers up the spines of coaches, players and fans alike. Here are the the biggest college basketball injuries thus far this season.

Maurice Watson Jr., Creigthon Blue Jays

College Basketball Injuries

Maurice Watson Jr. led Creighton to an 18-1 start. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

Greg McDermott and Creighton were having a stellar year. This looked to be one of the best teams in Omaha, ever. The Blue Jays rolled to a 17-1 record and traveled to Cincinnati to face Big East rival Xavier.

Disaster struck when the NCAA’s leading distributor, Maurice Watson Jr., went down with a knee injury. Medical reports revealed that it was the dreaded ACL and Watson Jr. was finished for the season.

Creighton won a huge test on the road but that was largely marred by the loss of their key player.

Watson Jr. transferred from Boston University and sat out a year after averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 assists. This year, Creighton added Marcus Foster from Kansas State along with a great returning cast of Cole Huff and Khyri Thomas.

Freshman Justin Patton also arrived on the scene to give Watson Jr. another target. At 8.5 assists per game and 12.5 points, Watson Jr. was a key part of the offensive flow. Since he went down, the team has gone 2-3 after Saturday’s loss to Xavier in Omaha.

Their ceiling has dropped tremendously. While before the Final Four was on the table for one of the most prolific (84.7 points per game) and efficient (52.1% field goal percentage, second in the nation) offenses, this is no longer a reality. Without Watson Jr., this team does not get past the Sweet 16.

This is a major blow for a team with the potential to win more than just a Big East title.

OG Anunoby, Indiana Hoosiers

With Thomas Bryant returning, the Indiana Hoosiers looked to make some noise even in the post-Yogi Ferrell era. OG Anunoby was a large part of that campaign. He is a multifaceted forward with the ability to score, rebound, defend and create.

Anunoby averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and led the team with 1.3 steals per game. Anunoby was efficient with a 23.7 PER and offensive box plus/minus of 5.4 this year and also effective on the defensive end with a defensive box plus/minus of 4.5. This means that Anunoby adds about as much value on the offensive end as the defensive end of the floor.

College Basketball Injuries

OG Anunoby’s injury put Indiana’s tournament hopes in danger. (Photo courtesy of fansided.com)

In the first half of their contest against Penn State on Jan. 18, they lost Anunoby for the year. The news was confirmed by Tom Crean a few days alter that the forward would need surgery on his right knee.

With the Hoosiers allowing 71.6 points per game and plenty of Big 10 games to go as of yet, that is where he will be missed most. The Hoosiers have stumbled their way to a sub .500 conference record (5-6) and are 2-3 since losing their key asset. In those games the team gave up an average of 83.8 points.

Even though the Hoosiers grabbed wins against Michigan State and Penn State, Anunoby’s presence is already sorely missed.

This is one of those injuries that causes a team to falter from a season of work. ESPN bracketologist Joe Liunardi currently has the Hoosiers at an 11 seed and one of the last four in the tournament, but to be sure of their place in March Madness the Hoosiers need to finish at or above .500 in the Big 10 at a minimum.

That means getting some combination of key wins against 23rd ranked Purdue and Caleb Swanigan who they play twice, a 25th-ranked Northwestern squad or the likes of Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa. They are not safe just yet. Anunoby’s injury puts them in grave risk.

Edmond Sumner, Xavier Musketeers

Xavier basketball looked to finally reach the promised land in Phoenix in 2017 coming into the season. At least they had a great shot to do so. Even with the unexpected departure of Myles Davis, the Musketeers hope were not dashed just yet.

Fresh off of a heavyweight bout with the Cincinnati Bearcats in the crosstown shootout, Chris Mack’s team traveled to New York to take on Chris Mullin and the St. John’s Red Storm. Sumner went down with a torn ACL and so did Xavier’s hopes for playing in early April.

College Basketball Injuries

Sumner (4) was a key piece of the Musketeer offense before his injury. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

The previously projected first round draft pick averages 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He is a dynamic guard with the ability to score, pass and rebound well for his size.

The Musketeers have not necessarily struggled throughout the season to put points on the board (76.7 points per game),  but they have had some poor showings and slumps. Sumner’s exit means less flow for the Xavier offense, so any struggles will increase.

There are no nights off in the Big East and the schedule will intensify for Xavier. Saturday they took down Creighton (minus Watson Jr.) in Omaha. They still have games against Villanova, who clobbered them in their first meeting, Butler and two games against a surging Marquette Golden Eagle squad.

There is a real potential for this team to finish with ten or more losses in the season. They are not in danger of missing out on the Big Dance, but they will not be around come Final Four Saturday.

 

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NCAA Mid-Season Bracket Reveal is Pointless

Selection Sunday is a holy day of obligation for college basketball fans. It is the day when all is revealed about the NCAA Tournament and the true fun can commence. It is the quiet eye of the hurricane with one side being a hectic week of conference tournaments and the other being the extravaganza that is the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA attempted to enhance some of that amusement with their most recent announcement. On February 11th, they will reveal a mid-season version bracket. The top 16 teams will see where they are per the committee.

So what does this actually do?

Honestly, it really does nothing.

There is not much information to really get fans talking since the all-important bubble teams are not included in the mid-season reveal.

When asked about the move, Xavier University coach Chris Mack called it ridiculous, among other adjectives.

“If you want, why don’t you show the teams that are on the bubble? That’s more intriguing,” Mack said. “Who cares if Kentucky is a one seed or a two seed?”

Mack’s poignant comments get to the heart of this move’s hypocrisy.

The NCAA is attempting to create a buzz around the sport earlier than usual, but is not revealing information that will spark anything. College basketball fans do not sit for hours upon end and debate why teams are a three seed instead of a four seed. All this does is tell us who may or may not be in the top 16 seeds which really does not merit a conversation.

On top of the fact that there is so much basketball left to play, it simply is not controversial and thus not what will spark conversation among fans. The thing about controversy is that it creates a palpable buzz. You want more controversy, not less of it, to a certain extent.

A good case study is the 2016 Syracuse Orangemen. Jim Boeheim’s squad was considered an outsider at best to make the NCAA field. In a highly questionable move, the committee gave them one of the 68 entry tickets.

This was so controversial that committee chair Joe Castiglione made a statement about their reasoning. The debate then became whether Syracuse’s Final Four run proved they merited entry or if they never should have been permitted to begin with.

This is what gets people talking, not unnecessary, meaningless updates.

Finally, what happened to good things coming to those who wait? Selection Sunday is the end of the road from a long season of build up. It is the culmination of all of the fear and anxiety that bubble teams go through. It is the one day that we wait for to kick things off.

Why divide our attention to two days? Why taint or spoil the momentum that leads into the first week of March?

There is no reason to change what is working. The NCAA should not look at expanding the tournament. They should not look at elongating the Selection Show. Things are fine the way they are.  We already have the greatest month-long spectacle in sports, there is no need to ruin it.

 

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Northwestern Wildcats Basketball on the Brink of History

The Northwestern Wildcats basketball team is attempting to relinquish one of the most infamous records in college basketball: Its record number of NCAA Tournament appearances. Standing at zero, they are the only power conference team to have never gone dancing.

The tournament consists of 68 teams and has included 64 since 1985.  With the number of Division I teams fluctuating every year near 340, that means approximately 19% of teams make the tournament every year. An overwhelming number of bids go to the power conference teams. Some of the big conferences have eight, nine, or even ten teams punch tickets in a given year. The Big East put in 11 teams in 2011, which is the current record. The fact of the matter is that there is a huge advantage for teams in a big conference.

Yet, even with all of this in their favor, the Wildcats have never made the tournament. Not winning a World Series for a century is bad, but when only one team completes the feat every year it pales in comparison to this. The men in purple have been close a few times but never able to get that signature win or finish the fight toward the end of the season.

Northwestern Wildcats Basketball

Chris Collins has the Wildcats moving in the right direction. (Photo courtesy of northwestern.edu)

Northwestern has not been ranked since the 2009-10 season and that was only a brief stint at the 25th spot. This year they are on the verge of entering the fray once again as they are receiving votes and continuing to win games.

Since Chris Collins took the helm in Evanston, the team has been trending upward. Last year the team finished with its best record since 2010-11 at 20-12. Their current record is 16-4 (5-2) after a close 74-72 win at Ohio State.

They are moving ever so much closer to solidifying a spot in the NCAA Tournament and also to the school record of 20 wins in a season.

With the Big Ten having a bit of a down year, there are not a lot of opportunities for Northwestern to get that statement win. Essentially, the rest of the year they will work to avoid a “fall from grace”. They are 38th in the RPI and have not lost any games to teams outside the top 50. They have a few more opportunities for good wins against teams like Maryland (21), twice against Purdue (27) and Wisconsin (24).

If the Wildcats take a must-win against Rutgers (130) and three others they will be guaranteed a .500 record in the Big 10. That should be enough to push them into the field, but another win or two would push them over the top. Obviously, winning the conference tournament would do the trick as well, but they have never accomplished this either.

An additional factor in their favor is that down the stretch they will not have to do a lot of traveling.  Seven of their last 11 games are at home. This includes two of their best opportunities for key wins against Purdue and Maryland.

A lot of things are in the Wildcats favor. They are currently in the field for many bracketologists including The Game Haus’ Joe DiTullio. DiTullio has them at a nine seed in his most current edition. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi agrees with their current placement in the field.

Northwestern has very little standing in their way at this point.  They just need to take care of business and finish the job. It is about time the program lift this weight from its shoulders.

 

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An Open Letter to Grayson Allen

To Mr. Grayson Allen,

I have been a Duke fan since a very young age and have come more into a love for the Blue Devils over the past decade than ever before.

Grayson Allen

Photo courtesy: Charlotte Observer

There are a lot of reasons that I am writing this to you today, but I will start with the positives. First I would like to thank you for your stellar performance in the 2015 National Championship. Without your 10 second half points and herculean effort, Duke does not beat Wisconsin.

Second, I would like to applaud your competitive spirit. There is not a person on this planet that could watch games at Cameron Indoor or beyond and call you out for a lack of fire. Even your most recent debacle involves by your intent to hustle for a ball out of bounds. Therefore, you are owed some kudos for the passion that you bring to your team and to each game.

Here’s the problem: you simply are not going about things in the right way. It is outright embarrassing and I am tired of hearing the general public speak out instead of Duke fans themselves. That is the true reason that I am writing this today: to plead with you for more caution within your choices.

As an athlete, sometimes you have a split second to make a decision and you make the wrong one. That is understandable. Tripping Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the open court and away from the ball is unacceptable. An additional trip of Louisville’s Raymond Spalding is egregious. A more recent trip to an Elon player is downright heinous. Subsequently, you made the incredulous choice to throw a tantrum about receiving a technical for said trip.

Grayson Allen

Photo courtesy: Sporting News

I am asking you to stop for the sake of the reputations of your school, your coach, your fans and most importantly of all yourself. During a loss to a very talented Florida State team, you seem to have initiated contact with an assistant coach. Did you do this intentionally? Who knows. What matters is that your past is to be used against you here and I cannot fault people for doing so. You are lucky enough that the aforementioned coach came out and defended you in terms of your intentions on the play.

You may not be so lucky next time. At this point, you have already been suspended for a short amount of time and lost your position as captain of the Blue Devils. Take this as a blessing in disguise and learn from it. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to avoid these situations. Your past currently incriminates you in any questionable situation. Change that.

Grayson Allen

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Do not take this as some plea to turn it down a notch or calm down on the court. Do not take this as some indictment against your character. Take this as it is: a critique of your actions on the court. Off the court I have heard nothing but good things about you. At this point, however, there is a feel that people’s opinions of you on the court are seeping into their judgments of your life off the court that they or I know nothing about.  Do not let that happen.

You have a ring. You have a stellar Duke Career with over 1,100 points so far. Keep all of that and leave whenever you leave with your reputation intact. Do not let that be the thing that you sacrifice for your years of hard work.

Sincerely,

A concerned fan

 

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When the Remaining Undefeated Teams Will Lose

It is nearly impossible to go undefeated in a season. The last team to do it and win the NCAA Tournament was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.  They were led by legendary Hall of Fame coach, Bob Knight, they are one of 19 teams to even reach the tournament undefeated. The most recent is the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats that fell just short in the Final Four. Wichita State also did it in 2014, but they lost in the second round to a different pack of Wildcats en route to the title game.

There are so many things that can happen in a season. Injuries can instantly derail a team’s season. Players can have acdemic issues as South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell did (and the team is still undefeated with him in the lineup). Naturally, players are human. As good as they are it is difficult to win night in and night out because there is bound to be at least one off night. It is a tall task to make it to March undefeated and it will not happen this year.

With Villanova’s loss to Butler, that leaves two out of the 351 division one teams undefeated. The Baylor Bears (14-0) and the Gonzaga Bulldogs (15-0). Each are currently in the AP top five due to their spotless records.  The question is, when will that first loss come?

Baylor Bears

Baylor has had a stellar season considering the turmoil of their campus over the past few months.  What is not in turmoil is their talented roster. Not to mention the fact that even with the roster they had the team was not picked to be as high as they are now. The preseason conference poll slotted the Bears at fifth in their own conference.

There are several facets to the Bears game that have gotten them to this point. Firstly, they are very efficient.  As a team they shoot 49.9% from the field. Part of that efficiency comes from the team’s depth.  The roster is not very full, 11 players have logged minutes this year, but 10 players play more than 10 minutes per game. Nine of those average more than five points per game.  Jake Lindsey is the tenth player and he contributes 4.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game in support of leading point guard Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte is a Miami transfer and is flourishing in Waco. He has 11.4 points per game coupled with 5.1 assist per game. His success is aided by his top scorers Jonathan Motley and Allerik Freeman. Each of these three players has managed double digit points (16.0 for Motely) in under 30 minutes of play.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) is one of the most prolific shot blockers in the country and is the teeth of the Bear’s defense. (photo courtesy of pickandroll.com)

What is more impressive is the defensive effect that each player has on the team.  All ten players that play significant minutes have a positive Defensive Box Plus/Minus.  This means that each player has a positive net effect on defense being in the game. The one player that it is impossible not to mention when it comes to Baylor’s tenacious defense is Jo Lual-Acuil. The seven foot monster smashes a whopping 3.6 blocks per game, good enough for third in the country. He has reached that mark in only 25.8 minutes per contest along with 11.1 points and 7.6 rebounds. Lual-Acuil’s high production in limited minutes is a perfect example of how Scott Drew’s use of the whole roster keeps his team energized.

That is what got them to this point. They will not reach the end of the season with a zero in the loss column. Baylor has taken down some giants on its way to current record. They have taken down Oregon who is now on track in addition to Xavier and Louisville. Conference play in the Big 12, however, is no joke. Baylor will finish the season with a minimum of two losses in the Conference.

The good news for all of this is that we will not have to wait long for this team to drop its first game. Already nearly faltering against an average Iowa State team, the Bears come home to Oklahoma State and then travel to West Virginia. This is the fun part about the Mountaineers being in the Big 12, teams have to go halfway across the country to play them. Travel has its wear and tear on players.

So after January 10th, only one team will remain undefeated in the NCAA. West Virginia and Bob Huggins are notorious for their full court defensive pressure that has caused 347 turnovers this season, best in the nation. They have only allowed 60.8 points per game. The really scary part? The team is fifth in the nation in scoring behind eight players over 7.0 points per game for a total of 90.7 per game. The fatigue of the Bears and the relentlessness of Huggins squad will result in Baylor’s first loss.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

At the beginning of the year Gonzaga was supposed to be good. They also had a few games that were supposed to challenge them on paper. Gonzaga has beaten all of the bigger conference teams on their schedule: Florida, Iowa State, an Arizona team on a neutral floor that is now coming around, Washington and Tennessee.

Karnowski is the main reason for Gonzaga’s offensive flow. (Photo courtesy of SI.com)

They have done it with a depth created by returning players, transfers and recruits. Nigel Williams-Goss has emerged as one of the most crucial transfers in the nation sitting at team bests of 13.8 points and 4.7 assists along with 5.7 rebounds. The versatile guard is a staple for the offense and has played the most minutes on the team thus far. To help him he has the interior presence of Przemek Karnowski, one of the best passing big men in the country. He has the highest usage percentage on the team (for players that qualify). Karnowski is the center of the offense for the team and his passing threat is a great creator. It helps Williams-Goss and fellow double digit scorer Josh Perkins to get their opportunities.

All of this action has allowed supporting players such as Cal transfer Jordan Mathews to flourish. Mathews is now shooting 42.5% from behind the arc.  Freshman Zach Collins and Killian Tillie also benefit from the lack of defensive attention. Collins is currently averaging 10.6 points per game on 72.5% shooting. When a guy is making three out of four shots from anywhere you know there is something good going on.

Unfortunately even that cannot prevent the Bulldogs from dropping a game or two.  They have a few tests on their schedule that will cause them some difficulty. The BYU Cougars may present somewhat of a challenge, but the team that will take down Mark Few is the St. Mary’s Gaels. The Gales have faced and beaten prime competition this year. When Gonzaga has to travel to St. Mary’s on February 11th, it will be too much for Gonzaga.

St. Mary’s is led by Australian Center Jock Landale with an outstanding 18.4 points per game and 9.7 rebounds. To this point he is one of the most productive players in the country, not to mention the WCC. Another Aussie player that has high production on the team is Emmett Naar.  Naar is a threat in several facets with 10.3 points, 5.7 assists and 2.9 rebounds. He is one of the main reasons that the ball moves so swiftly about the Gaels offense.

What the team truly brings as a strength is its defensive prowess. They are currently third in the country only allowing an astounding 58.1 points per game. They have allowed 61 points or under in 9 of their wins this year. The one game that they lost to UT-Arlington they only allowed 65 points. Gonzaga is a deep team, but they will not be able to fend off the aggressive defense of St. Mary’s.

Here is Your New Year’s Resolution: Watch More College Basketball

So you have not thought of a New Year’s resolution yet? No problem. Here is an easy one for you: watch more college basketball. Not only will this be significantly more enjoyable than anything else you can think up, but you only have to keep it until April! Kick off 2017 with a sense of accomplishment and renewed interest in the sport. There are plenty of reasons for you to watch:

Great Players

Markelle Fultz has is the top freshman prospect thus far this year. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

This season is jam packed with young talent. There are dozens of players whose mere presence on the court merits tuning in for a game. Perhaps one of the best examples is Washington’s Markelle Fultz. He is currently topping many NBA mock drafts and is widely considered the top overall prospect. Despite the fact that the Huskies are a lackluster 7-5, Fultz makes it worth your time.

He is an elite scorer with 22.0 points per game so far as a freshman while adding 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He has the size and athleticism of an NBA guard and will surely be a top pick in the draft.  For now, he is a contributor to the attention of college basketball fans.

Other stellar freshman include UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Ball is a lights out shooter with extreme precision. He averages 13.7 points per game, but shoots over 52% from the field and over 42% from deep. He also is one of the nation’s best passers and it shows with his 8.1 assists per game.  Ball uses his lanky size to grab 5.6 rebounds per contest.  There are a few questions about his game, but he is another college player beyond his cohorts and a good reason to make this resolution.

Josh Jackson, in turn, is a freak athlete. Jackson stands at six foot eight and 207 pounds of lean muscle. He has the ability to jump out of the gym. The scary part is that now his shot is coming around.  He is at 52.9% from the field.  His range could use some work, but as a guard averaging 1.5 blocks per game and 6.5 rebounds there is little lacking in his game. He came into the year as the top overall recruit and has lived up to that honor.

Other young players like Jayson Tatum of Duke, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo of Kentucky, Miles Bridges of Michigan State and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac are coming along nicely. So far this is a deep recruiting class.

Let’s not forget the guys that came back, though. Ivan Rabb makes California games more than watchable. The six foot ten power forward was projected to be a back end lottery pick, but made the decision to return under Cuonzo Martin. Rabb is nearly averaging a double-double with 14.7 points per game and 9.8 rebounds. He supplements those figures by throwing in 1.6 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The tremendously talented sophomore is the center of the Bears offense and worth this New Year’s Resolution on his own.

Other players that made the tough choice to return, but also are worth watching include Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson.

Great Teams

So tuning in to see one player is not your thing? No problem. There are plenty of great teams to meet anyone’s tastes.

Creighton and Villanova just finished off 2016 with a titanic clash in Omaha. Villanova had several players return after their adrenaline-inducing tournament run. This year there is no hangover from their dramatic finish. Without Ryan Arcidiacono (graduation), Daniel Ochefu (graduation) and Omari Spellman (eligibility) the team is still kicking on all cylinders. The Wildcats move the ball well and have some great finishers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

Jalen Brunson has been terrific in his new role as the team’s main point guard, leading the team with 4.0 assists per game. Nova has eight players averaging more than 5.7 points per game and that has led them to a team average of nearly 80. Yes, Josh Hart does a lot of the scoring (20.5 points per game) but there is still plenty of unselfishness. Their tenacious defense and deep seeded athleticism has allowed them to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, only giving up 61.5 points per game. Additionally the team is 17th in the nation in turnovers. There is a reason they are the number one team in the land.

Maurice Watson Jr. currently leads the nation in assists per game. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

Despite Creighton losing this game at home by ten, they are still one of the best teams in the country. Creighton was supposed to be good, but the level that they have been playing at is totally unexpected. Before the match-up against Villanova, the Bluejays stood at 8th in the country with a whopping 89.8 points per game. Nine players average more than four points per game.  This team is a lot deeper than last year thanks to transfers Marcus Foster (Kansas State) and Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston). They are now the two leading scorers on the team which has caused some returnees to take a back seat.  This only makes the team deeper than ever. Watson Jr. helps the Creighton offense flow with his 9.1 assists per game. Creighton is 22nd in the nation as a team in assists, which they have on 56% of their made field goals. There are too many contributors to speak about on this team and it is one of the reasons for their success thus far.

There are plenty of other teams worth making a resolution to watch more of. West Virginia and Virginia each have suffocating defenses that keep games tight from beginning to end.  Gonzaga is making a lot of noise out west with a combination of returnees, transfers, and freshman. North Carolina is coming around health wise and now is returning to the form that they were at in Maui. The Tar Heels are an elite team and every game is full of action. Justin Jackson is one of the best players in the country, Kennedy Meeks and freshman Toney Bradley help North Carolina be a top 5 rebounding team in the country and Joel Berry’s return will make this team even better still.

Great Games

The conference season is just beginning and so is your resolution to watch those games. Creighton and Villanova was just one example of the type of game that college basketball has to offer in 2017. There are still plenty of games to come this year.

Duke and North Carolina will face off twice this year, with the first game on February 9th. Their second game is in the final week of the regular season. Both teams are slated to be high seeds come March. These two match-ups will shape the college basketball playing field to see who the best team in the ACC is.

The way things are right now there are several other in conference games with potential.  Kansas and Baylor will square off for the first time February 1st. Despite all of the madness that has transgressed at Baylor this year they have still managed to compile the beginnings of a great basketball season. Kansas boasts some of the top players in the country in Josh Jackson and Frank Mason. An injury to Udoka Azibuke is a set back for the Jayhawks, however, and should make the interior game quite interesting being headed by Landen Lucas who has struggled thus far. Jonathan Motley is a physical presence for the Bears with 9.1 rebounds per game. Miami transfer Manu Lecomete leads the Baylor offense into battle.  he currently averages 5.3 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game.

As Dillon Brooks returns to form, so do the Oregon Ducks. (Photo courtesy of collegebasketball.ap.org)

UCLA and Oregon will face off again on February 9th.  Their first contest ended with Dillon Brooks hitting a game winning shot and UCLA being dealt their first loss of the season. There is no reason to think that the second chapter will be any less exciting. UCLA is one of the most prolific offenses in the country, averaging 93.9 points per game, second in the country. Had Thomas Welsh not missed some time, the Bruins may still be close to 100 points per game as they were at the beginning of the season. They do not just score, though, they pass as well.  They lead the nation in total assists as a team, doing so on 66.3% of their field goals.  The Ducks, on the other hand, had a slow start after making the top five in many preseason lists. The Ducks lost to Baylor early (which does not look as bad now) and dropped their first game in Maui. They have not lost since.  In addition to their victory over UCLA, they took down the red hot, previously undefeated USC Trojans. The Ducks are beginning to look like the team they were picked to be as star Dillon Brooks returns to 100%.

After the regular season contests are over there will be so much more fun with conference tournaments and that little known tournament labeled March Madness. So if you have not yet made a New Year’s resolution or you would like another one, just put more college basketball on your calendar.

 

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Mark Few and Crew Working toward First Final Four Appearance

Few coaches have been as dominant in their conference as Mark Few. Few entered the year with the highest winning percentage among active coaches. With Gonzaga at 10-0, Few has done nothing to hurt that. Currently at 475 career wins, sometime at the end of this season or the beginning of next he will reach 500. There has only been one season in Few’s tenure that the Bulldogs did not win the West Coast Conference regular season or tournament title. Additionally, he will reach 18 consecutive tournament appearances barring a titanic implosion.

Those are all great stats, but there is one glaring accomplishment missing: A Final Four Appearance. Under Few the West Coast juggernaut has been to six Sweet Sixteens, one of those turning into an Elite Eight appearance. Despite all of the tournament appearances and wins he has amassed, none have begotten a Final Four.

This year is a game changer for him. Better yet, a tournament changer. His team has the ability to go deep into the tournament. A strong combination of new faces and returnees has made this team as balanced as ever.

Przemek Karnowski is more than a big body, he also has grace for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

Przemek Karnowski is more than a big body, he also has grace for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

Przemek Karnowski’s return to the floor is the biggest impact for the team thus far.  The stand out center played 5 games in 2015-16 before being sidelined with a back issue. Listed at 7-1 and 288 pounds, he is definitely a big body but there is more to him. He is one of the most graceful passers in the WCC.

This year has been no exception as he has done much more than be the team’s second leading scorer at 12.4 points per game. He has added on 6.2 rebounds per contest as well as 2.0 assists thus far. Not to mention he has accomplished everything with a highly efficient 27.7 PER. The numbers, however, do not reflect the precision with which he finds the open man cross court from the low post. Karnowski sends defenses into a tizzy by beginning his approach to the basket then flipping the ball with ease 15 feet away to a teammate.

Other significant returning players include Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.  Perkins averaged double figures for the Bulldogs in 2015-16. With the departures of Domantas Sabonas, Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McClellan he became the team’s leading returning scorer. So far he has 11.7 points per game, but shows versatility by adding in 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest. Perkins very much buys into Few’s offense that moves the ball frequently, but he has the ability to hit the shot that the team needs when necessary.  Perkins currently sits at a 53.7% mark from three point land. Silas Melson, on the other hand, averages 7.9 points per game, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He is doing this as the Bulldogs seventh leading scorer. The team legitimately plays eight players. Their depth and balance is one of their main strengths.

Gonzaga would be in a different place without Nigel Williams-Goss (Photo courtesy of emeraldcityswagger.com)

Gonzaga would be in a different place without Nigel Williams-Goss (Photo courtesy of emeraldcityswagger.com)

Much of that depth comes from the plethora of transfers that Mark Few has coaxed over to his Spokane. Starting from the top, there is leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss had a productive year for the Washington Huskies but decided to bolt for greener tournament pastures. The guard has put up numbers across the board with 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Williams-Goss’ defensive numbers have improved as well, allowing 88.8 points per 100 possessions dropping from 104.8 with Washington.

 Jonathan Williams and Jordan Matthews are two additional transfers that have had an impact thus far. Matthews came over from California while Williams came from Missouri. Both players have seen a dip in their production from their previous locations. This does not mean that they are any less important. Each have had their respective impacts. Matthews has reached double figures in five games. This included a season high 17 points and three of five from deep in a trouncing of the Washington Huskies. For Williams it was a 16 point showing against Florida in which he made his mark. He has had a few other gems this year including 20 points against Bryant.

The balance of Few’s team reaches new heights when two freshman enter the discussion. Zach Collins is only playing 16.7 minutes per game, but is still the team’s fourth leading scorer at 10.0 points. Collins is currently shooting 69.4% from the field and has a PER of 30.5.  That is a dangerous weapon for Few to have off his bench. Killian Tillie provided more at the beginning of the year, but he currently is playing 14.7 minutes per game. In his short stints he has provided 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds. The scary figure is the six foot ten forward’s three point percentage: 46.7%. Few can insert him at any point in the game and spread the floor. Bigger players will be made uncomfortable playing outside the paint.

Their major strength is their ability to move the ball with extreme accuracy. The Bulldogs love to get out in transition and score quickly. They also possess the ability to slow the game down offensively and create in the half court. The West Coast team also has been efficient on defense, allowing 63.1 points per game to their opponents.

Gonzaga’s diversity and versatility under Mark Few has led to several key wins already. Early in the season they have already beaten the likes of Florida, San Diego State, Arizona and Iowa State. This has led the Bulldogs to a top ten ranking by the Associated Press. This is one of the teams in the country most worth tuning in to see and come April they will be in the mix with the giant programs.

Indiana Reestablished as Title Contender with Statement Win

Eight days after losing to Fort Wayne in a stunning overtime upset, Indiana had a chance to hit the reset button. The Hoosiers lost on the road to the Mastadons 71-68. They then quietly defeated Mississippi Valley State 85-52 at home.

Justin Blackmon Jr. (left) and the Hoosiers were eager to get back on track from their loss to Fort Wayne (Photo courtesy of insidethehall.com)

Justin Blackmon Jr. (left) and the Hoosiers were eager to get back on track from their loss to Fort Wayne (Photo courtesy of insidethehall.com)

The Hoosiers dropped from number three in the country to 13 with questions looming about their true capabilities. On Wednesday night they had their chance with a huge test against the newly third ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. On top of the fact that Indiana was coming off the loss, there was the storyline of the ACC taking control in this weeks ACC-Big Ten inter-conference challenge.

However, an electric atmosphere rejuvenated Tom Crean’s team. Isiah Thomas’ presence in celebration of the 1981 National Championship team amplified the atmosphere even further. Every big play for Indiana was met with a ruckus applause.

The Hoosiers had a fast start in the first half. Junior guard Robert Johnson was key in helping the team jump out to a 14-7 lead. He assisted on the first basket of the game and had with seven early points of the team’s 14. Johnson finished with 11 points, ten of which came in the first half and were key to Indiana’s momentum.

The seven point deficit would be as close as it got in the first half. North Carolina was completely out of sorts as the Hoosiers took a huge lead at the start. The Tar Heels were out of control, made poor shot choices and ultimately allowed the surroundings of Assembly Hall overcome them.

The crowd was a definite advantage for the Hoosiers and several plays made by James Blackmon Jr. and OG Anunoby brought them to their feet. Anunoby was a big part of Indiana’s 41-29 halftime lead. This included a highlight dunk following a  North Carolina turnover before crossing half court. Anunoby finished the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Sophomore Thomas Bryant showed his versatility Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of indianapolisstar.com)

Sophomore Thomas Bryant showed his versatility Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of indianapolisstar.com)

The second half opened with much of the same story. Thomas Bryant had a fantastic game with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. This included several stealthy moves near the basket, showing his agility as well as versatility with a three-point jumper that gave the Hoosiers a 50-38 lead at the 14:03 mark.

To this point the game was all Indiana but North Carolina began to climb back. Justin Jackson quietly had 21 points and 8 rebounds. A three-point shot by Jackson brought the game within five points at 65-60 with 3:28 to go. However as was the story of most of the second half, every time the Tar Heels began to come back, Indiana found a way to widen the gap. OG Anunoby took a pass from below the basket, maneuvered to the opposite side of the hoop via the baseline and slammed it home. At that point with the score 71-60 and with 1:35 to go the game was all but over.  The Tar Heels attempted to foul to extend the game but were unsuccessful in their efforts.

What this means: Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana jumps back into the top 10 with this win next week, provided they take care of business Friday against SIU Edwardsville and Sunday against Southeast Missouri State. Even considering the debacle that was their contest against Fort Wayne these games should give them no difficulty. Tom Crean’s team showed us yesterday what they are truly capable of even though there is the advantage of the game being on their home court in Bloomington.

The Hoosiers moved the ball well, easily penetrating the Tar Heel defense at times.  They also shot the ball well at 48.1% from the field. The Hoosiers responded well each time that North Carolina seemed to climb back in to the game. James Blackmon’s three with 3:44 to go is a perfect example. The Tar Heels had taken control for a few moments but Indiana settled down and Blackmon’s shot started a run.

The Hoosiers had five players in double figures showing that they are not reliant on just one player for their scoring. There is only one key thing to watch and that is OG Anunoby’s ankle. He landed awkwardly after a dunk that extended the Hoosier lead to 11 and juiced up the crowd. On the sideline he had an ice pack on his ankle. This should be a simple ankle roll. A bad injury would be a huge blow to this team right after making a statement about what they are capable of.

What this means: North Carolina Tar Heels

Roy William’s team was unable to control the tempo at times throughout this game. The only players that seemed unflappable were upperclassman Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks. Meeks had a solid game with 10 points and eight rebounds. Yet, even Meeks had his issues this game. He got into early foul trouble and played 25 minutes, the lowest of all starters. Jackson was four of seven from behind the arc. Jackson is the player on this team that has the capability to take over a game if need be.  Everything from his stature to his expressions show that he is the guy, but he was unable to pull his team all the way back.

None of the Tar Heel reserves were able to have a large impact on the game. Luke Maye did return to the floor after missing several games with an ankle injury. He was largely ineffective for the short eight minutes he played. Theo Pinson is still recovering from a stress fracture suffered earlier this offseason. He will provide key minutes to the Tar Heels when he returns.

The team played significantly different from the Maui Invitational Champion Tar Heels. They not only failed to score 70 for the first time all year, but also allowed the most points in a game this year at 76. North Carolina did not shoot well as a team and their defense was weak at times. Offense was frenetic and unorganized at times. There were few attempts to move the ball inside to Meeks or freshman Tony Bradley.

This was the first true road test for North Carolina. Their other games were at home or on a neutral court, the latter including the Maui Championship game they won 71-56 over Wisconsin. The team still has great potential even though they will likely drop out of the top five of the next AP Poll.

An Added Note: Jimmy V Week

As an added note, this game was a part of a series of games in celebration of Jimmy V week.  This celebrates former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano who passed away of cancer. For more information about the Jimmy V Foundation that benefits from the event you can visit their site.

Five Lessons from Feast Week 2016

Thanksgiving week is a time for family, food, football and of course basketball! Over the past week, dozens of NCAA teams have made apparent their strengths and weaknesses. Here are the five most important insights that fans can pull from the plethora of Feast Week tournaments:

The Tar Heels are Elite

North Carolina won a not so climactic Maui Invitational and moved to 7-0. They won it with an average margin of victory of 30 points. Granted, one of those games was against Division II opponent Chaminade. Despite that, they obliterated the two Division I teams they faced, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, by 32 and 15 points respectively.

These are not normal, run-of-the-mill teams. Wisconsin was on the preseason top ten list for many behind Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Jawun Evans leads the Oklahoma State Cowboys as an elite scorer at 24.7 points per game. Evans was one of only two Cowboys in double figures against the Tar Heels.

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

North Carolina currently has five players averaging over ten points per game. They can spread the ball well and do not rely on one player to stay above water. Returnees Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks have made it business as usual for Roy Williams. Five star recruit Tony Bradley is a nice addition at 10.7 points per contest and 6.3 rebounds.

This is a very long Tar Heel team that possesses the ability to frustrate defenses by tipping balls away. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks dominate the boards, keeping teams from getting too many second chance points. Each also possesses the ability to protect the rim with good size and length. North Carolina is not one-dimensional.  They are a threat to the two-headed monster of Duke and Kentucky come Phoenix in April. Their next test is Wednesday against Indiana.

Oregon is a Work in Progress

Dana Altman’s team was elite last year, achieving a one seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. With the big three returning for the Ducks, fans and analysts expected much of the same. With the early pre-season injury to Dillon Brooks, that has not been the case.

At the Maui Invitational, the Ducks dropped their first game to the Georgetown Hoyas. Rodney Pryor had 26 points and 10 rebounds for a stellar offensive performance against the Ducks. Despite that, Oregon’s problem has been offense, not defense. With Brooks still not at 100 percent, the team has struggled to put up points while holding every opponent below 70. That is including an overtime game against Tennessee.

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at tghe Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at the Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher is the face of Oregon’s defense. He averages a whopping 3.0 blocks per game so far after setting the school record in 2015-16 with 110. As a side note, Boucher also leads the team with 15.0 points per game. That should change as Brooks transitions back into the line-up. As of now, Brooks has only 18.7 minutes per game. The most he has played all year is 25 against Tennessee which included overtime.

The bright spot in all of this is the development for the Ducks players in Brooks’ absence. Freshman Payton Pritchard has amassed a mountain of minutes, getting used to the collegiate game speed. His 29.7% three point mark is not the best but this should rise. As Pritchard’s role decreases and Brooks gets back into the swing of things, the freshman will see better looks with less defensive attention.

Despite the Ducks dropping a game to Georgetown and struggling against the Volunteers they showed some promise during Feast Week. Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey are each looking like their old selves, Brooks is settling in, and the Ducks have proven the ability to gnash their way to a win in a physical game. As Altman’s boys continue to mesh, watch for them to climb back up in the rankings.

 

Virginia Maintaining Identity without Austin Nichols

Examples of things that are certain in life: death, taxes and the Virginia Cavaliers as a defensive based team. Tony Bennett coaches this team year after year to the same sort of style. This year he has the added stress of doing it without key transfer Austin Nichols. Nichols played in only one game before being released by the team. He had previously violated team rules in October.

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Regardless of the reasons for his dismissal, Virginia still looks like the top tier team that they have been over the past few years. Since Nichol’s discharge, the Cavaliers have been nothing short of brilliant. The team’s Feast Week exploits consisted of a dominating performance at the Emerald Coast Classic. They held their opponents to 42.3 points over the three game span of the tournament. While Grambling State is lesser competition, Iowa and Providence do not operate in the same category.

Better yet for the Emerald Coast champs are the two contests they played outside of Feast Week show their consistency. Virginia held Yale and St. Francis (NY) to under 40 points. Their points allowed average since Nichol’s left is 39.4 points.

The one detriment to the Cavaliers is that they do not score. Their 72.8 points per game through six games ranks them 214th in the NCAA. The only game which holds that average above water is the 90 point showing against Grambling State. Additionally only one player averages double figures in scoring: Darius Thompson at exactly 10.0 points per game. Virginia does play ten players, but they need someone to step up. Balance is great but they have no go-to player at this point. London Parrentes should turn into that player at some point this season.

UCLA is an Offensive Juggernaut

Okay, so with the exception of Texas A&M, UCLA has not exactly played anyone yet. Still, the offensive accomplishments and efficiency the team has put together is daunting. Putting up the numbers they have against anyone is impressive.

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball is the major recruit of this class for Steve Alford and he has not disappointed. Nothing short of brilliant, he averages 16.0 points, 9.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.  Nearly averaging a double-double as a freshman is impressive. What about having two freshman nearly averaging a double-double on the same team? T.J. Leaf was the other stellar recruit for the Bruins and he sits at  17.1 points (leading the team), 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Additionally, four other players are averaging double-digit scoring figures totaling six for the team as a whole. Bryce Alford is second on the team with 17.0 points per game. He also is first in shots made from behind the arc with 19 and is shooting at 44.2%.

There is a laundry list of personal accomplishments, but the team’s overall statistics are the most astounding. Through six games the team is second in the nation in field goal percentage, sixth in three point percentage and first in total assists. They average 96.9 points per game. UCLA has 249 made field goals and 169 assists meaning they assist on 67.8% of their baskets. Not only are they extremely efficient, but they also share the ball well.  That should be more than apparent with the aforementioned six players in double figures.

NCAA Champions Points Per Game
Year Team Points Forced Points Allowed
2015-16 Villanova 78.0 63.6
2014-15 Duke 79.3 64.2
2013-14 UConn 71.8 63.2
2012-13 Louisville 74.5 58.8
2011-12 Kentucky 77.4 60.6
*UCLA 96.9 Forced, 75.3 Allowed

The one caveat would be the lack of defensive efficiency. Sure, the team does not rely on one player for its scoring. However, they currently allow 75.3 points per game. They may have a high powered offense, but their defense needs to improve when they do hit the tougher schedule. Generally, championship teams do not allow that many points.

The Bruins won a lackluster Wooden Legacy tournament during Feast Week. The only game that caused them any trouble was the grind-it-out match-up Texas A&M. The Aggies have some surprising new faces contributing, but are not of the same caliber as the Bruins. December 3rd they will face Kentucky in Lexington. This will be the first true test for Alford and company.

Michigan State is Still Difficult to Trust

Tom Izzo’s teams are the epitome of March basketball. Right now they are searching for a legitimate identity. Between a rough early schedule and some early individual struggles the Spartans they have yet to establish consistency.

Michigan State started off the year 0-2 after a last second loss to Arizona and a less than stellar performance against Kentucky. After a 100 point performance against Mississippi Valley State, the Spartans won a controversial game against Florida Gulf Coast 78-77.

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Tom Izzo’s squad spent their Feast Week at the Battle 4 Atlantis. They took down St. John’s 73-62 to start. They were then dominated by Baylor 73-58. Miles Bridges was the only player in double figures for the Spartans with 15 points. Bridges is the highest rated member of a stellar Spartan recruiting class. Bridges has had some up and down games, including struggles against Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast, but is still the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. His dynamic athleticism has him averaging 1.7 blocks per game and defensive win shares. Bridges decision making is still a point of weakness with 3.4 turnovers per contest, also leading the team.

Michigan State finished up with a 77-72 win against Wichita State, but the Shockers nearly willed their way to a win in this one. Bridges led the team with 21 points, but this time four other players also achieved double figures. Senior Eron Harris, a West Virginia transfer, has had the most inconsistent year. In the contests against Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor this year he averaged 4.0 points. On the flip side he had 31 against FGCU. The Spartans will need Harris this year to have a deep tournament run and find some sort of team identity.

2016 Champions Classic: A Tale of Two Games

There were two completely different narratives for our top two teams in the nation on Tuesday. One team showed its prowess and already looks ready to compete at late-season form.  The other battered, bruised and war torn team showed some gutsy revival skills, but ultimately fell short.  What did we learn through the progression of these two games that we can take into the context of the whole season?

#2 Kentucky 69, #13 Michigan State 48

The Wildcats moved to 3-0, while Michigan State fell to 0-2 on the season with their first loss coming against Arizona on a last second shot in Hawaii.  The Spartans traveled a lot of miles this weekend to arrive at Madison Square Garden for the clash of titans and were slightly gassed.

The game went through a very frenetic pace through the first few minutes. There were a lot of looks in transition and fast break plays. The overall snapshot of the game really comes from when it was tied at 12 with 14:17 to go in the first half. That was the last tie of the game.

Malik Monk then hit his first of several threes. Monk shot with precision, hitting seven of 11 looks from behind the arc and finishing with 23 points. He hit four in the first half that helped the Wildcats establish and keep the lead. Bam Adebayo, one of the players to watch in this game, was also huge in helping the Cats control the glass and thus the game as a whole.

Wenyen Gabriel (left) with one of Kentucky's eight blocks. (Photo courtesy of kentucky.com)

Wenyen Gabriel (left) with one of Kentucky’s eight blocks. (Photo courtesy of kentucky.com)

The real story of this lead, however, was the suffocating defense of Kentucky. Kentucky showed amazing quickness on defense no matter the personnel on the floor. The Wildcats were beat a few times, but recovered very well. Their quickness will make them able to run with the best on defense. As a team, they had eight steals and forced 20 turnovers. They also had eight blocks. Some of these came in a one on one setting. Others came from players coming over to help. They utilized several defensive strategies including double teams and switches. This was definitely the biggest take-away for this team as it is the reason for the huge scoring gap.

The first half did end with the Spartans making up some ground. Tom Izzo’s team went on a 9-2 run and the lead was cut to four. However the half ended with momentum sputtering. Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe hit a last second layup in traffic for two of his 21. This late half inbound play was indicative of how the whole game had gone and would go.

The second half was full of more of the same which led to the anti-climactic ending. Michigan State really never put any pressure on Kentucky in the second chapter. This game was completely different from the other Champions Classic match-up.

One bright spot that Spartan fans can take away is Cassius Winston. He had only 2 assists in the game, but passed the ball effectively. There were several times where he found open players that were unable to convert. Also, Mile Bridges quietly had 12 rebounds. He had an underwhelming performance with nine turnovers and only six points, but it was his athleticism that scouts will be drooling over. He had a missed dunk in the game that he skied to the rim for. Bridges had a very freshman night but does not have freshman athleticism. Even thought the Spartans are 0-2 there is plenty to be hopeful about after a bit of roster overhaul.

Kentucky can take away from this game that they are the team to beat. Isaiah Briscoe improved his shooting tremendously. Through three games he is shooting 54.8% from the field and 75% from the charity stripe. He finished 2015-16 at a 46% clip from the free throw line. Even though it is early, this is great for the Wildcat offense. Still, it is the defense that should be the thing exciting fans.

#7 Kansas 77, #1 Duke 75

Duke came into the game leading the AP poll in votes, but were without their top three recruits from the 2016 class (Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden). Despite that they still expected to compete and win this contest. Kansas brought top player and freak athlete Josh Jackson to showcase his talent at the Champions Classic, and did he ever.

Grayson Allen (3) had a strange landing and left the game before returning to start the second half (photo courtesy of newsday.com)

Grayson Allen (3) had a strange landing and left the game before returning to start the second half (photo courtesy of newsday.com)

The game started with a weak offensive showing from Kansas.  They made only three of their first 11 field goals. After Duke took advantage of this and gained an early lead, Kansas went on a 10-1 run despite the heavy amount of fouling early in the game. Momentum shifted in Kansas’ direction especially after a scary landing that sent Duke guard Grayson Allen to the locker room for evaluation. Already having a quiet night, this did not do him nor Duke any favors.

The second half opened with more of the same for Kansas. Josh Jackson showed both the ability to get to the rim as well as shoot from mid range during a 19-6 run for the Jayhawks.  The game was noticeably in the control of Bill Self’s squad as Jackson scored seven straight points for his team.

Grayson Allen remained noticeably quiet during this time as he was during the whole game.  It was an off night for him only hitting on one of his seven attempts from deep, four of 15 overall. The tide began to turn as foul trouble set in late in the game. There were 48 total team fouls in this game and one very important one came in the first half when Josh Jackson was given a technical for slapping the ball out of Amile Jefferson’s hands. That cost Jackson a personal foul and was a big reason why he was disqualified from the game with 5:08 remaining. Kasnas was up 65-55 at the time but Duke had one last run in them.  They could have used his athleticism on both ends of the floor during the end of the game. Despite that Jackson still finished the game with 15 points.

Frank Mason III rises up to hit the eventual game winning shot. (Photo courtesy of kansascity.com)

Frank Mason III rises up to hit the eventual game winning shot. (Photo courtesy of kansascity.com)

Duke’s Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson each hit key shots down the stretch to bring Duke back within reach and eventually tie the game at 75 with under 20 seconds to go. Frank Mason III gave the blue Devils nightmares in the second half scoring 17 of his 21 in this second chapter. The 17 points after the break included yet another basket plus a foul, converting through contact which is something that he has shown a knack for so far this year. He has also been the unquestionable team leader, even in the loss to Indiana this past weekend. He had one final trick up his sleeve, hitting a pull up jumper to break the tie over Matt Jones with 1.8 seconds to go.  The Blue Devils had no timeouts left and a half-court heave fell short.

Both teams have plenty to take away from this game: Kansas found out that Frank Mason III is their go-to late-game guy. They got to see that Josh Jackson’s athletic ability sets him apart from the rest of the competition. They also got to see the type of domination they as a team can bring, especially with Udoka Azibuke in the game who grabbed 12 rebounds in just 15 minutes on the floor. The Jayhawks do need to improve from deep range and at the charity stripe. They hit only two of their 17 looks from downtown. the Jayhawks were 9/19 from the free throw line.

Duke saw what they have aside from Grayson Allen and their top recruits. Frank Jackson showed excellent poise late in the game and hit a huge three for the Blue Devils. Second year players Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter each displayed the progressions that they have made. Kennard made his own plays to put up 22 points as well as drove to open up the floor for others, nabbing five assists with five boards to boot. Jeter had quite a few hustle plays and finished with three blocks. The Blue Devils were drastically outplayed on the offensive boards 14-6. This will undoubtedly be a point of emphasis as second chance points and resets aided the Kansas offense in controlling the game.

Defensively each team has plenty of time and reason to improve.  Both teams switched to zone from time to time to shake things up. Each team had the athletes to shake the man-to-man defense from time to time. Dribble penetration was effective for both teams in creating open looks as defenders over-committed to help. Kansas was the winner on this level from a statistical base.  They forced 16 turnovers from Duke and controlled the glass.

 

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