The Sun Devils are Scorching

Arizona State defeated Kansas 95-85 in Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday. They outscored the Jayhawks 58-45 in the second half. Tra Holder had 29 points and Shannon Evans had 22 of his own. Freshman guard Remy Martin gave a huge spark off the bench with 21 points, shooting 8-11 from the field. Together, Holder, Evans, and Martin were 11-18 from downtown.

The Jayhawks have now lost two straight and Bill Self said this is the softest Kansas team that he has ever had.

Bobby Hurley has Arizona State in position to be ranked in the top ten next week. They are playing as well as any team in the country. They are red hot right now.

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Duke Falls to BC

Duke lost their first game of the season against Boston College in their ACC opener. Here are some takeaways/reactions:

Defense (Perimeter Defense)

Duke has struggled this season when it comes to guarding perimeter-oriented teams. Like Florida, Boston College lives from the 3-point line. The guard trio of Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, and Jordan Chatman combined for 76 points and they also combined for 13 3-pointers. The Eagles ran ball screen after ball screen, which forced Duke to switch constantly. BC would set a pick up top (usually for Bowman), which forced Marvin Bagley and the other bigs into mismatches. Bowman is a threat to shoot it from the outside, pull up for the mid-range jumper, or take it all the way to the hole. He is really tough to handle. He flirted with a triple-double, recording 30 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists.

Didn’t Feed the Bigs

Marvin Bagley did have a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but he was practically nonexistent for most of this game, especially in the second half. Bagley only had 11 field goal attempts and Carter only had eight. While, Allen, Duval, and Trent combined for 45 shot attempts. Duke is at its best when they feed their bigs and run their offense through them. They are good passers and good things happen when the ball is in their hands. Duke needs to use the size that they have to their advantage.

Good Loss for Duke?

Before today’s matchup, Duke came back from double digit deficits in the second half of games and ultimately came out with wins. They were undefeated heading into Chestnut Hill with an 11-0 record. Let’s remember, Duke is starting four freshmen, and this was their first ACC game, and it was on the road. These guys needed to feel what it was like to lose a close game. The ACC is a beast, you need to bring your very best every single time. This was a huge learning experience for the young guys. You can’t take anything away from Boston College though, Jim Christian had his team ready to compete, they played to their strengths, and they executed.

Friday Games to Watch

St. John’s (8-1) vs. 16 Arizona State (7-0):

The red hot Sun Devils get a tough test against Shamorie Ponds and company as they look to remain undefeated.

22 Nevada (8-1) vs. 20 TCU (9-0):

The Wolf Pack come off a tough OT loss to Texas Tech and now they have another Big-12 matchup. The Horned Frogs will look to stay unbeaten.

Oklahoma (6-1) vs. 25 USC (4-2):

The Trojans hope to prevent a three game losing skid as they battle Trae Young and the Sooners.

 

 

Pair of Top Five Teams Go Down

Kansas suffered their first loss of the season to Washington in Kansas City on Wednesday night. A perimeter-oriented Jayhawks team that has been lethal from downtown was held to just 25 percent shooting from 3-point range.

The Huskies had four starters in double figures. Matisse Thybulle had 19 points, Jaylen Nowell added 17, Noah Dickerson had a double-double with 14 points and 13 boards, and David Crisp had 10 points and seven assists. LaGerald Vick led all scorers with 28 points for the Jayhawks.

Mike Hopkins gets a ginormous signature win in his first season with Washington. Don’t think many people would have thought that the Huskies would be a 7-2 team at this point in the season. But, college basketball never stops. They get Gonzaga at home on Sunday.

Florida lost to Florida State by 17 at home on Monday and lost to Loyola-Chicago at home on Wednesday night. Not one Gator scored in double figures on Wednesday. A team that was red hot offensively to start the season scored 66 and 59 points in these two losses respectively. They have plenty of things to work on. Again, college basketball never stops. Florida gets Cincinnati on Saturday.

My Two Discouraging ACC Teams

The ACC is arguably the best college basketball conference every season, especially in recent years. Just last season, the ACC sent nine teams to the NCAA tournament, more than any other conference. Two years ago, six ACC teams advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, breaking a tournament record. I anticipated that this trend of great success would continue into this season. Although I still think the conference is loaded, two teams that I expected to be doing well at this point in the season have found themselves at the bottom of the conference. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. It is early, conference play hasn’t even begun yet, but there is cause for concern. Some of their losses are not acceptable.

Wake Forest is 5-4. They lost their first three games of the season to Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Drake. Danny Manning and company had a terrific year last season, and I expected them to build off of that success. ACC play is right around the corner, which means that games will not get any easier. The Demon Deacons start off their conference schedule in Chapel Hill. They also have a game against Tennessee a week before the matchup with the Tar Heels. Wake Forest will have plenty of opportunities to build their resume, but they need to show us that they can win big games if they want to get back to the NCAA tournament.

Georgia Tech just lost to Wofford and they recently lost to Grambling. Josh Pastner had 21 wins in his first season in Atlanta and I expected an NCAA tournament bid this year. Granted, they haven’t had Josh Okogie available, but that doesn’t excuse them from having a 4-4 record thus far. Again, ACC competition is coming. There is a plethora of opportunities, but they will need to convert on these opportunities in order to be a Selection Sunday team.

Teams That Have Surprised and Disappointed Thus Far

Pleasant Surprises:

Arizona State:

The Sun Devils are 7-0 on the young season with an impressive and decisive win over Xavier. Tra Holder dropped a 40 piece in that game. He is averaging 22.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. Redshirt freshman Romello White, who was ineligible to play last season, has also been fantastic. He is averaging 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Bobby Hurley also gets Mickey Mitchell when Arizona State takes on Kansas on December 10th. Mitchell is a transfer from Ohio State. Arizona State has St. John’s, Vanderbilt, and Kansas in their next three matchups. In a Pac-12 conference that is struggling, Arizona State could really be a contender at the top.

Texas Tech:

Texas Tech is 6-1 on the season with their only loss being against a tough Seton Hall squad. The Red Raiders completely dismantled Northwestern 85-49. Texas Tech is a deep team and Keenan Evans is a seasoned veteran averaging just under 16 points per game. In a loaded conference with Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor, TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma, the Red Raiders will have plenty of opportunities to build their resume. They have an undefeated Nevada team coming up next.

Nevada:

An undefeated Nevada team has a big win over URI and they have two big tests coming up. A pair of Big-12 teams in Texas Tech and TCU are next. The Martin twins and Jordan Caroline are all averaging double figures in scoring. They will be a top contender in the MWC.

Boise State:

Boise State had an incredible buzzer-beater win in Eugene and the Broncos are 8-1 on the season so far. Chandler Hutchison is a pro and he has this team ready to compete with Nevada at the top of the conference.

Houston:

The Cougars are 6-1 so far and just completely embarrassed Arkansas 91-65. Rob Gray is one of the best scorers in the nation, he is absolutely sensational. 21.5 points per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 45 percent from 3-point range. In a competitive American Conference, Houston could make some noise.

Tennessee:

I expected the Vols to finish at the bottom of the SEC. They only have a loss to Villanova (by nine), while beating Purdue, NC State, and Georgia Tech. Grant Williams is averaging 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds thus far. They have been quite a surprise in a extremely improved SEC. Can they keep it up? They have UNC soon.

Disappointments:

Northwestern:

Who would have imagined that the Wildcats would be 5-4 in their first nine games? They have lost to good teams in Creighton, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech, and Purdue, but the edge that they played with last season is completely missing. They had a special run last season and returned their core heading into this year. If they want to get back to March, they need to win some big-time Big-10 matchups.

Arizona:

The Wildcats lost three games in Atlantis, but have won two straight since. Coming off an OT victory at UNLV, Sean Miller realized that playing Ristic and Ayton is probably not the move going forward. Ristic hardly played down the stretch, as Miller elected to go with Ira Lee and Keanu Pinder. Arizona will have two tough games coming up against Texas A&M and Alabama. We will find out who Arizona actually is in these games.

Vanderbilt:

I expected Vanderbilt to be much better than a 3-5 team through eight games. They have had a tough schedule and did take USC to overtime, but they need to find a way to win some of those big games. They have Middle Tennessee and Arizona State coming up next.

Saint Mary’s:

The Gaels already have two losses. The problem is that they do not have a strong schedule with many big-time game opportunities. They need to own their conference and need to prove that they belong with Gonzaga.

Wendell Carter Jr. is Under-appreciated

Ever since Marvin Bagley committed to Duke, he has been receiving all of the hype. There is absolutely no problem with that because he is that special. However, some people are forgetting how good Wendell Carter is. Since he is being overshadowed by Bagley, I think he is starting to become under-appreciated.

Carter tallied his fifth double-double of the season last night in a win against Indiana. He is now averaging 13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds on the season. These numbers, especially his scoring, would be higher if Bagley didn’t choose Duke. He is also extremely efficient, shooting just under 64 percent from the field. Carter is a workhorse on the glass. He brings heart, physicality, and strength every game. He grabs offensive rebounds, he challenges opponents at the rim on the defensive end, and he is a great passer for a big man. Carter is a very smart player, he knows his role, and makes winning plays.

On top of all of this, Carter already has an array of NBA skills offensively. He has tremendous footwork, established post moves, including a fadeaway jumper, jump hooks, and he can hit a face-up mid-range jumper. This makes him very difficult to defend.

Carter has a solid base. He plays with a lot of energy and he is hard to move in the paint. He is definitely a guy who should go in the lottery for the 2018 NBA Draft.

2018 NBA Draft Tier One: Top Five

It is super early, but I think there is group of five players that separate themselves from their peers.

1. PF: Marvin Bagley III (Duke, Fr.)

What To Like:

If there were questions about his motor, they shouldn’t exist anymore. I can’t remember a player that was so active and bouncy on the boards, especially on the offensive end of the floor. After a missed shot (especially his own), Bagley is an immediate threat for a put-back or tip-shot. He is constantly fighting and reaching for rebounds.

Bagley already has a tremendous skill set. He has great footwork around the basket, he can hit a floater or teardrop, and he can pass out of the post. I have really been impressed with the passing ability of Bagley and fellow teammate Wendell Carter. Their ability to feed it to each other has been really fun to watch.

Bagley is a tremendous prospect to build around. He is a type of player who puts up points and rebounds in bunches. He might have ten points and eight rebounds even though it feels like the game just started. He is versatile, athletic, and a player that simply doesn’t come around often.

What Not To Like:

Bagley doesn’t have a great frame and it is unclear whether he will be able to guard fives at the next level. He has shown an ability to block shots, but his defense does need work. Whether it is switching onto perimeter players or dealing with elite size at the next level, he will need to improve his defensive versatility.

Bagley favors his left hand too often. He needs to improve his ball-handling and needs to show us that he can use his right hand on the block.

His perimeter shooting also needs a lot of work, along with his free throw shooting. He isn’t much of an outside threat yet, shooting 4-13 from 3-point range this season. That really isn’t a part of his repertoire right now. He is also shooting 61 percent from the line, even though he has shown recent improvement, including a 9-10 outing against Florida.

2. C: DeAndre Ayton (Arizona, Fr.)

What To Like:

Ayton has an absurd mixture of power, strength, explosiveness, and skill. This makes him extremely difficult to defend. Man-child and beast-mode are perfect terms to use to describe him. Like Bagley, Ayton is a double-double machine. He can finish around the rim (and through contact), can clean up the boards, and has the ability to hit a mid-range jumper. The mobility that he has for his size is unfair. Like Bagley, the 3-point shot isn’t there yet. He is 3-13 from downtown this season.

Ayton is the prototypical center for today’s game. His physique combined with his incredibly high-ceiling makes him an extremely exciting prospect.

What Not To Like:

Due to his physical build and height, Ayton can sometimes slack off on the defensive end. At the next level, this won’t work. Being bigger than everyone else throughout his life, Ayton has been able to take plays off. Maximum effort will be needed in order for him to be a stud in the NBA.

3. SF: Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, Fr.)

What To Like:

At 6’10”, Porter has terrific size at the small forward position. He has a lot of things to like. Porter has guard-like skills, outside shooting ability, and is a guy who can score in a variety of ways. He is someone who could be a go-to guy at the next level when you really need a bucket. Porter can play a multitude of positions offensively, fitting in with today’s small-ball style. Putting him at the four allows him to stretch the floor nicely.

The Kevin Durant comparison always comes up. He definitely doesn’t have the length of Durant or the sniper ability. Durant also has a tighter handle, a lethal crossover into a pull-up jumper, and is more explosive, etc. The comparison is unfair at this point, but there is no doubt that Porter has a ton of skill. He is a very good athlete too.

What Not To Like:

I don’t think there is much defensive upside with Porter. There is nothing too special from him on that side of the floor.

The big thing is the fact that we won’t get to see him compete at the college level. We don’t know how that will affect his draft stock.

4. G/F: Luka Doncic (Real Madrid)

What To Like:

Doncic is the most exciting and hyped up international player in recent memory. His size combined with his passing and shooting makes him really special.

Doncic is a guy who can play on ball and off ball. He can run the point, is lethal in the pick and roll game, and has the necessary court vision. He can also be a scorer off the ball. His shooting is tremendous and he can score at the rim.

Doncic is also getting serious reps. He is playing with powerhouse Real Madrid and getting plenty of experience under his belt.

What Not To Like:

Like Porter, I’m not jumping up and down with Doncic on the defensive end. Will he be able to defend at the NBA level? Especially if he plays a lot of point guard (which I think he can), defending the elite point guards in the game is a difficult task every single night. Elite ball-handlers, floor-generals, and athletes are all over the place.

5. C: Mo Bamba (Texas, Fr.)

What To Like:

You have heard Jay Bilas say it a million times. Wingspan. Bamba’s is at 7’9″. Yes, that is outrageous. Bamba has a clearly defined role for the next level, a shot-blocker and rim-protector. Bamba has great agility for his size and sensational timing for deflecting/altering shots.

Bamba’s defense is definitely ahead of his offense, which is still very much a work in progress. I haven’t been impressed with his post-up work and scoring around the basket thus far, and like Bagley and Ayton, his perimeter game (and 3-point shot) is a ways away. However, I do think he has a decent stroke. I have heard comparisons between him and Rudy Gobert, except Bamba has a much higher offensive upside. I am okay with that.

What Not To Like:

Like Ayton, Bamba sometimes disappoints with his efforts defensively. His switches can be lackadaisical and hard work isn’t consistent possession to possession. Again like Ayton, they have always had the luxury of being so much bigger than everybody else.

Bamba definitely needs to add muscle to his slim frame in order to bang with the big bodies of the NBA.

Bottom Line:

It is early, but I think these are the clear top-five players in this draft. Jaren Jackson Jr., Collin Sexton, and Kevin Knox are some other names that I like as well.

 

Duke Beats Florida in PK80 Title

Duke came back (yet again) to defeat Florida in the championship game of the Motion Bracket. Duke trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and as many as 17 points in the second half.

Although Duke only trailed by four at the midpoint, it was extremely hard for them to keep up with the pace and perimeter play from Florida. Chris Chiozza was controlling the tempo of the game and Jalen Hudson kept making plays. This would continue into the second half. And just like the Texas game, Duke got big buckets down the stretch (from Bagley and Carter), a clutch Grayson Allen triple, and they got consecutive defensive stops. Duke held the Gators to 31 second half points. Duke finished the game on a 17-4 run. Carter had a rough game throughout the night, but had some big buckets late in the second half. Bagley was unbelievable again, recording 30 points and 15 rebounds, marking his second consecutive 30-15 game. Gary Trent and Trevon Duval had crucial defensive plays at the end of the game and Trent hit four clutch free throws.

It is remarkable that a young team like Duke was able to erase a double digit deficit yet again so early in the season. Who will beat the Blue Devils first?

Spartans’ Defense Outlasts UNC

Michigan State defeated North Carolina to take the title in the Victory Bracket in Portland on Sunday night. The Tar Heels were held to 24.6 percent shooting from the field and Joel Berry hit the only 3-pointer in the game for UNC (Tar Heels were 1-18 from downtown).

Michigan State completely bullied Luke Maye out of the game. They denied him the basketball and didn’t allow him to operate in the paint or get open space on the perimeter. Maye shot 3-13 from the field. Berry and Williams, who had both been terrific up until this game, were a combined 3-18 from the field.

Josh Langford had a coming out party tonight, scoring a game-high 23 points on 8-11 shooting from the field and he was 5-7 from downtown. Langford was the bright spot in what was a mediocre offensive performance from Michigan State. However, their defense completely dominated this game and swallowed up the North Carolina offense.