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A Super Saturday

- When is Marquette going to start Davante Gardner? He was 6-for-6 from the floor on Saturday and he is by far the Golden Eagles most efficient offensive player. I know Chris Otule is an outstanding defensive player, but it seems crazy to me that Gardner isn’t averaging over 30 minutes a game. Marquette needs every point they can get as they showed in escaping their first three Big East games with narrow wins. Marquette won two of those games in OT, and the third game by one point.

- I love Fran Fraschilla’s commentary on Oklahoma St.’s Le’Bryan Nash. Nash thinks he needs to play like an NBA small forward and dominate the game with his shooting. But what he should really be doing is using his physicality and athleticism to dominate the paint. There is no reason for a player with his skill set to float so much on the perimeter. Nash has a below 4% offensive rebounding rate which is just silly for a player with his ability. Nash’s Oklahoma St. team fell at Oklahoma on Saturday and Nash has to play better for Oklahoma St. to finish near the top of the Big 12.

- Even if Illinois was ranked and Wisconsin was not, smart money said Wisconsin was going to win Saturday’s game. The final margin may have been a bit of a surprise, but after Wisconsin jumped out to a 14-0 lead, it was not particularly shocking. I personally believe the days of Illinois winning at the Kohl center may be numbered. While Bruce Weber’s offense was Bo Ryan’s kryptonite, I think Bo Ryan’s system is a terrible matchup for John Groce’s system. One of the things John Groce has tried to instill at Illinois is an aggressive attacking team that doesn’t regret making mistakes. If Brandon Paul wants to go down the court and take a bad shot, he isn’t going to have to look over at the bench and see Weber threatening to take him out. But Wisconsin is the type of team that crushes careless teams. If you shoot early in the shot-clock, you are going to spend 30 minutes of the 40 minute game on defense. And if you take chances on defense, the Badgers are going to move the ball and wait until they get a wide open three or dunk. While John Groce’s system is more fun to watch and has already paid dividends with the early wins against Butler, Gonzaga, and Ohio St., it isn’t the recipe to beat the Badgers, especially in Madison.

- Butler’s Rotnei Clarke uses fully 30% of his teams shots when on the floor and was coming off a 28 point performance, so it really was a heroic effort for Butler to win at Dayton after Clarke suffered an awful looking head and neck injury early in the game. But six players scored off the bench for the Bulldogs in the win.

- Yes, Elston Turner got hot and scored 40 points, and that is why Texas A&M won at Kentucky. But the scariest part of the win is it didn’t really feel like a fluke. First, Kentucky knew Turner was A&M’s leading scorer, so they need to take the blame for not focusing more on shutting him down. But second, this didn’t seem like some superhuman effort where Kentucky was draped over Turner but he couldn’t miss. (Compare this to the threes Brandon Paul hit with Aaron Craft in his face in the Illinois-Ohio St. game last year.) Turner mostly just seemed to get his shots in the flow of the offense. With about 4 minutes left in the game, the score was tied at 63, and you would have thought Kentucky had the best chance to run its sets and get the victory. But A&M calmly ran its offense and found wide-open shooters, while Kentucky did not. The Aggies simply executed better than the Wildcats, and following their close game against Vanderbilt, Kentucky looks nothing like a Final Four team at this point.

Speaking of real Final Four contenders, Saturday featured two simultaneous noon games of key national importance. Minnesota traveled to Indiana in a battle of Top 10 teams. And Duke traveled to NC State in a battle between the current and preseason ACC title favorite. Through the wonder of the DVR, I was able to watch every minute of both games:

#8 Minnesota at #5 Indiana, #1 Duke and #20 NC State

Pregame North Carolina: The key storyline on this day was that Duke was playing without Ryan Kelly for the first time after Kelly suffered a leg injury. I am very curious to see how Duke responds without Kelly in the lineup. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Duke play better. Kelly’s defensive rebounding remains a liability, and Duke has a number of talented players like Top 25 recruit Amile Jefferson, who are just dying to get more playing time. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see someone blossom in Kelly’s absence. On the other hand, Kelly’s replacements Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson have not really been good defensive rebounders either, and their inexperience could be costly in certain situations.

Opening Minute NC: Scott Wood nailed a three to give NC State the first points of the game. For the most part Duke did a tremendous job containing Wood on the day, but given that Mike Krzyzewski emphasizes denying three point shots, seeing Wood get an open three early had to bother him.

Opening Minute Indiana: The beauty of Indiana is that the Hoosiers can put four outside shooters on the floor and provide a ton of space for Cody Zeller to operate in the paint. Indiana takes a 4-0 lead on Minnesota when Zeller runs a slip screen at the top of the key and escapes for a wide-open lay-up.

14:30 NC: Duke Freshman Amile Jefferson checks into the game for the first time. At first CJ Leslie attacks Jefferson and draws a foul. But then Jefferson has an extremely nice sequence of game play. Jefferson gets a steal, blocks a Lorenzo Brown drive from behind, and hits a beautiful floater in the lane.

This type of thing has to be extremely frustrating for NC State fans. While NC State’s starters are fantastic, they have so little depth this year that any roster issue could be crippling. When an NC State player was arrested earlier in the week, Wolfpack fans everywhere had a momentary panic attack until realizing it was a walk-on. Meanwhile Duke has elite recruits riding the pine.

13:30 IND: Cody Zeller hedges on a screen attempt. And Zeller actually forces a turnover on Minnesota’s Andre Hollins. Zeller’s  lateral quickness is incredible.

12:20 IND: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell blocks and alley-oop intended for Minnesota’s Rodney Williams and then runs to the other end of the court for a lay-up. Indiana isn’t an elite defensive team, but they’ve clearly made huge strides from last season and Zeller and Ferrell are a huge reason why.

9:27 NC: Josh Hairston grabs a rebound and CJ Leslie rips it out of his hands. At this point in the game, Jefferson has outplayed Hairston as the Ryan Kelly replacement.

9:14 NC: Rasheed Sulaimon misses a dunk. Fans everywhere get the rare treat of Dick Vitale criticizing a Duke player for not making the smart play and taking the lay-up.  It is worth noting that after Sulaimon scored in double figures in 9 of his first 11 games the scouting reports are starting to come out, and Sulaimon has only hit the double figure mark in 1 of his last 5 games.

8:35 NC: Scott Wood hits a three and gets fouled. But then he foolishly starts jawing with Duke’s Tyler Thornton. Wood is lucky to get a double technical as Thornton is walking away and just shoves Wood to stop Wood from following him. This really looked like a situation where Wood was the only guilty party. Worse yet for Wood, this incident fires up Duke’s defense and Wood doesn’t get an open look at a three the rest of the day.

4:05 NC: CJ Leslie catches an alley-oop over Josh Hairston and I am now convinced Amile Jefferson is the better Ryan Kelly sub.

0:00 NC: TJ Warren hits a buzzer beater just before half-time.

Meanwhile, jumping back a few minutes in Indiana:

10:30 IND: Gus Johnson credits Indiana’s Jordan Hulls with getting a good look at a three, but that isn’t right. Minnesota is playing zone and Hulls dribbles, pump fakes, and then takes a three. That isn’t a rhythm shot and Hulls misses. The next trip down the floor, Hulls catches a pass and launches a shot a full three steps beyond the three point arc. This shot went in because Hulls caught and shot in rhythm.

Shortly thereafter Minnesota’s Andre Hollins drives and tries to take a shot from the top of the key. But Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is up for the block and forces Hollins into a bad pass and turnover instead of taking the jumper. (This may seem subtle, but this play is important later.)

And suddenly the flood waters are unleashed. Indiana goes on an 18-2 run and eventually takes a 23 point lead into half-time. I really cannot explain what it is like when Indiana gets hot offensively. Indiana just has so many scary scorers that they can just blitz teams. At no point did I think Minnesota was playing horrible defense. But all of a sudden I looked up and Indiana had made 7 of 11 threes, a bunch of easy inside baskets, and suddenly the Hoosiers had 52 points at the half and a 23 point lead.

16:21 Second Half IND: Indiana opens up the second half playing sloppy basketball. The Hoosiers commit two offensive fouls and then get called for stepping over the baseline on an inbounds pass. But it is hard to blow a 23 point lead, and Indiana keeps a comfortable margin for most of the half. Even having watched it all on the DVR, I am shocked by how little happens early in the second half. Indiana is coasting and in complete control.

9:12 IND: Zeller has a beautiful drive from the top of the key that results in a one-handed dunk, and the lead is still 19. Pretty much everyone watching the Minnesota vs Indiana game has flipped to Duke vs NC state long ago.

Back in North Carolina:

14:37 NC: Down 8, Josh Hairston dives on the floor for a loose ball.

6:22 NC: Hairston grabs an offensive rebound and kicks it to Seth Curry for a wide-open three. The lead is down to 5. While Hairston’s effort might be questioned in the first half, it cannot be questioned in the second half.

3:25 NC: TJ Warren nails a tough shot from the right side of the key and I continue to wonder why Warren isn’t getting more freshman-of-the-year publicity. He is shooting nearly 70% on the season and never turns the ball over. Perhaps his lack of rebounding has been the issue (and Mason Plumlee did have another huge offensive rebounding day), but Warren hit some key baskets in this game.

3:15 NC: In a very scary moment, Seth Curry collapsed to the floor without being touched. It seems odd to say it, but it was nice to see on the replay that Curry slipped. When I saw it live, I thought for sure he tore his ACL as that would be the only thing that could explain him collapsing like that. But with his leg slipping out from underneath him, it is possible the leg injury is not a full tear. Still, on a day where Duke was relying heavily on Curry’s scoring, his injury essentially locked up the win for NC State.

4:35 IND: The country tunes back into the Minnesota-Indiana game, they see the Hoosiers are still up 15, and they start getting ready for football.

2:48 IND: Indiana’s Victor Oladipo fouls a three point shooter for the second time today. Remember earlier when I mentioned that Oladipo was being super aggressive in trying to block jump shots. Well, Minnesota has figured this out and has adjusted. They are now using Oladipo’s aggression against him.

1:31 IND: Rodney Williams misses a put-back dunk with Minnesota down 8. This seems like a key miss.

0:40 IND: This is probably the most improbable comeback I have ever seen. Minnesota has cut the lead from 23 to 6, but it has never felt like Minnesota had any momentum. The Hoosier crowd has continued to support their team throughout, and Minnesota has never been able to rattle Indiana or go on that 10 point run that really makes you ponder the outcome. But when Christian Watford sends a pass into the bench with a six point lead, for the first time the game looks interesting.

0:20 IND: Minnesota’s Andre Hollins gets Victor Oladipo to jump into the air again and draws the contact. Oladipo fouls out while fouling a Minnesota three point shooter for the 3rd time on the day. Give Hollins credit for seeing what Oladipo was doing and taking advantage of it. Tom Crean tells Oladipo that the Hoosiers didn’t need a blocked shot at that point. Hollins makes 2 of 3 free throws to cut the lead to 3 points.

0:19 IND: Minnesota fouls on the inbounds pass. Indiana’s Jordan Hulls misses two free throws seemingly giving Minnesota a chance, but Tyler Zeller tips the free throw miss, Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe falls to the ground, and the Hoosiers get the ball.

There is something amazingly ironic about one of the Hoosiers’ all-time best free throw shooters missing two in a row, and one of the Gopher’s all-time best rebounders failing to corral a board with the game on the line.

And so Indiana holds on to win, although it doesn’t really feel like a win. While I thought the Hoosiers might have more depth and be able to use it, both teams relied heavily on their starters. Amazingly, all 10 starters in the Minnesota vs Indiana game scored in double figures.

Duke is no longer undefeated and Seth Curry’s injury remain a big concern heading into the week. Luckily he has 10 days to heal up before Duke’s next real test at Miami.

NC State gets the joy of beating Duke, but oddly in a season with high expectations for the Wolfpack, this game was more of a relief than a joy. By beating Duke at home, NC State now has a reasonable chance to win the ACC title. But they have a lot of big games ahead of them.

 

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