Tag Archives: ACC Basketball

Virginia’s Win over Duke is a Big Win for College Basketball

The scoreboard in Durham read:

Virginia 65

Duke      63

But the bigger story was this:

Real College Basketball – 1

NBA Minor League – 0

The University of Virginia scored a big win for college basketball on Saturday. Virginia, notched an improbable, but not shocking win against the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham, otherwise known as the Duke Blue Devils.

Let’s be clear about one irrefutable truth – Duke has the most talent of any team in college basketball. I am not sure there is a close second. Kentucky maybe, but no other team has the wealth of talent that a Coach K has assembled at Duke. Duke has multiple NBA lottery draft picks on their roster. So how did UVa, who has zero NBA lottery draft picks on their roster, beat Duke at Cameron Indoor?

I am not sure it’s that hard to understand. Virginia is a tightly knit team of college basketball players who are completely vested and committed to the University of Virginia and the success of UVa basketball. Duke is a confederation of future NBA basketball players, none of whom give two rips about Duke, Durham, or college basketball unless it impacts their route to the NBA. In real world terms, the Virginia players are home owners with a vested interest in the success of their program. Duke’s players are renters, looking to move out as soon as they can. Which one of those is better for the long term prospects of the neighborhood? Which is better for college basketball?

I was awed by some of the jaw-dropping plays Duke made on Saturday. They are an impressive collection of massively talented basketball players. To their credit, the Duke one-and-dones seem like good kids in addition to being ridiculously talented athletes. They are not dirty cheap-shot artists, like Grayson Allen. They are not foul-mouthed cry babies…like Greyson Allen. The fab Freshmen at Duke have not emulated Grayson Allen, primarily because they don’t care about Grayson Allen or anything else about Duke basketball…and that’s why Virginia won on Saturday.

I think the one-and-done kids play hard. I think they would much rather win than lose. I am sure they work hard in practice. However, there is no doubt that the success of Duke basketball is not at the top of their list of priorities. Duke is a holding bin, a way station on the way to the NBA for all of Duke’s contributing players. While I am sure they like Duke and respect Coach K, if VCU could convince these kids that VCU was a better conduit to the NBA than Duke, there is no question these kids would punt the Devils and embrace the Rams. This is why Duke lost today. This is also why Duke lost to Boston College and NC State. When your NBA highlight reel is your highest priority, winning is nice, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

By contrast, Virginia’s players are fully vested in their university, their coach, and their program. Several of Virginia’s players will certainly have professional basketball careers and one or two might have long careers in the NBA. However none of Virginia’s starting 5 will be NBA lottery picks, but they will all be Virginia basketball legends and adored by Virginia fans for the rest of their lives.

There is no question that Virginia’s players love UVa. They love their coach. They love Charlottesville. By the time they graduate they will have spent 4 or more of their most formative years immersed in the culture of UVa, Charlottesville, and the Virginia basketball program. They are part of the fabric of UVa. They bleed for UVa. Duke’s current crop of fab-freshmen will spend the obligatory 8 months in Durham before moving on to the NBA. While I am sure they would like to win the ACC championship and the NCAA tournament, the Virginia players would given their first born to bring championships home to Charlottesville. That’s why the Bad News Bears won today. It is why Virginia will remain relevant on the national stage as long as Tony Bennett is leading the program.

I have no illusions that Virginia is the favorite to win the NCAA tournament this year.  I will be thrilled if they can win the ACC regular season. It is a long road ahead and Virginia has to clear many high hurdles to win the ACC much less win the NCAA championship. By the time March rolls around, less talented legs are tired and the Duke thoroughbreds might be in a better physical condition to make a tournament run. However, if the winner of the Big Dance comes down to heart and determination, a real college team like Virginia will be tough to beat and fab-freshmen can move on to the NBA, making room for next year’s mercenaries.

Sorry Duke, Virginia is the New Taste in College Basketball

Reading some of national reporting on college basketball, particularly Virginia basketball, it might be easy to conclude that there was a crisis in college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia basketball was an infection slowly killing college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia was leading NCAA basketball down the path to attention deficit disorder-driven doom.

Such a conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

I watched Duke play Florida State the other day. It is hard not to be impressed by the embarrassment of riches Coach K has brought to Durham. Duke starts 4 freshmen. At least 2 of those 4 will be one-and-dones. The other 2 could spend a second season in Durham pretending to be college students, but it is not likely. Smart money says all four call it quits on going to class in January and conclude their stints at the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham after March Madness concludes.

As I watched the track meet with FSU, I couldn’t help but wonder what Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams thought. I can’t imagine what Bobby Hurley, Christan Laettner and Grant Hill think. I am sure they are happy with the continued success of the program. Duke is an unquestioned big dpg in NCAA basketball. However, watching Duke play basketball today has very little in common with Duke basketball that put the Blue Devils on the map. It looks nothing like the game that Battier, Booozer, Laettner, and Hurley played. Funny, I don’t remember many reporters griping about too much defense when defense was Duke’s calling card.

The Duke of old was known for discipline. Hard-nosed, aggressive man-to-man defense was Duke’s differentiation. While Duke had very talented players back in the day, they lived and died with their defense and the offense it so frequently spawned. Prior to the current incarnation of Duke basketball, players went to class and graduated with college degrees.

Not any more. The Duke of today is a staging area for NBA players. A way station, a holding bin. Duke no longer has a brand or calling card other than a roster stacked with kids who have no interest in a Duke education. Instead, they have every intention of leaving Durham before the first commencement ceremonies of their college “careers.” Remember when Coach K wouldn’t raise a championship banner in Cameron Indoor if a player on his team had not finished his degree? Yeah, those days are over.

Watching Duke play these days is like any other play ground game. it is festival of 1-on-1 moves and dunks. Duke’s defense is more happenstance than strategy & execution. When ridiculously talented players log enough minutes, eventually they will be in a position to make a remarkable play. Duke’s defensive success is more like looking down and finding a 4-leaf clover than the result of a well deployed plan.

On the other hand, I just got back from the Virginia/North Carolina game in Charlottesville. UNC came into today’s game averaging 85 points per game. They scored just over half of their average today as Virginia dominated the Tar Heels for the second year in a row in John Paul Jones Arena.

In past two games combined against Virginia, the Heels have scored 92 points for a per-game average of 46. That doesn’t happen by accident. It also is not a result of Virginia’s roster being stacked with 5-star, future NBA lottery picks. Rather it is the result of a program that is committed to winning differently and generally has its way setting tempo and controlling the pace of play.

Unlike Duke, Virginia wins based on stellar execution at both ends of the floor. They win by playing the best defense in the country. They win by frustrating offensive juggernauts used to having their way running up and down the court doing tomahawk and windmill dunks. UNC didn’t have any windmill jams on Saturday. Instead they got their butts kicked at both ends of the court by a team that, on paper, had no business staying within 20 points of the Tar Heels. What’s not to love about that?

David slaying Goliath has always been a popular theme in college athletics. Until Virginia started averaging close to 30 wins a season, no one ever evaluated David’s style points for how he slew Goliath. That Virginia fans went as crazy over 3 uNC shot clock violations as they did for De’Andre Hunter’s thunder jam over Joel Barry shows me that Virginia fans appreciate the full breadth of the college game.

Virginia can’t win playing UNC or Duke basketball, so they don’t. Instead, they play aggressive defense. They make the extra pass on offense. They play Virginia basketball. True basketball fans should at least appreciate if not relish the fact the Coach Tony Bennett has found a way to run with and beat the big dogs by intentionally not playing their game. Strategy and execution should be as appreciated as a part of college basketball as a break-away slam.

I suspect those who grimace at the way Virginia has creeped into the top tier of basketball programs are the same folks who like to see a winning score at the US Open of -20. On the surface a birdie-barrage looks more entertaining than hacking out of knee-deep cabbage.

However, what the run-and-gunners  and birdie fanatics miss is an appreciation for the strategy options and execution that turn an expected outcome on its head. Maybe what irks Virginia’s detractors the most is that Virginia wins enough big games now, that after a beatdown of UNC, no one even considered storming the court…since Virginia has now done this 5 times in a row.

I am not asking everyone to be a Virginia fan. All I am asking is for an accommodation, for a grudging acceptance that there is more than one way to succeed mightily in college basketball. Virginia might be an acquired taste, I understand that, but so is good bourbon, good scotch, and stout beer. Beating the tar out of the Heels two years in a row is a great reason to celebrate the acquired tastes in life, wherever we find them.

Is Virginia Basketball the Bitcoin on the NCAA Basketball?

Has anyone but the most ardent Virginia basketball fan heard of Kihie Clark and Kody Strattmann? For those with better things to do, that is your UVa 2018 basketball recruiting class. Any guess where this recruiting class is ranked in the ACC? Don’t bother looking it up. It’s last. There is a chance Virginia could add a name or two to the ’18 class, but don’t bet a week’s pay on it. Worried? Don’t be.

If anyone is concerned about the future of Virginia basketball, please watch Devon Hall play this year. Hall is not only a a top statistical performer for the team, he is a floor leader, a general who knows what Coach Bennett wants at all times. He is like having an assistant coach running the offense and setting the defense in real time. Not many top programs have this type of player anymore. Virginia makes a living off of guys like this and will continue to do so in the future.

Let’s face the reality of Virginia basketball – Tony Bennett runs a different program compared to most of the other top tier teams in the country. Virginia’s defense grabs most of the headlines from the national media who generally are too simple-minded to appreciate the skill and teamwork of great defense. They want all icing & no cake, so when Virginia basketball fails to look like the mind-numbing NBA, they complain that they are bored. Too bad for them. Like good scotch, Virginia basketball is a taste worth acquiring.

However, where Tony Bennett really excels, where he is radically different in his program strategy, and where he makes his bones winning lots of basketball games is in his roster management and player development.

It is hard to argue with CTB’s results bringing Virginia back to the conversation of the elite teams in the country. It is just an unusual path. Like the value of bitcoin, fan confidence in the future success of the Virginia program is based on trust. And like bitcoin, there are likely to be spikes and crashes in the public perception of his roster management and his recruiting. The results to date are stellar however, so fans should trust his system, trust his eye for talent, and trust his ability to develop talent over a college career. Ahhh…. the multi-year college career. We don’t hear much about that anymore, with the exception of UVa and maybe Wisconsin & Villanova, but it is a crucial part of Tony Bennett’s strategy and Virginia’s success.

It is important to get two things out in the open that will not change for Virginia basketball:

  1. Virginia will never land top 15 recruits who are likely “one & done” players. Nor will Virginia land top 40 recruits who think they are one & done, but really aren’t. In Tony Bennett’s system, a top 40 recruit, pretending to be a college student for 6 months, who is not committed to intensely effective defense will sit on the bench. Think that is an attractive option to prima donna kids who think they are the next LeBron James?
  1. Malcolm Brogdon winning the NBA rookie of the year will do nothing to help Virginia’s recruiting with top 40 kids. Brogdon is the poster-child for Virginia athletics. Virginia fans love Malcolm Brogdon, but that carries no weight with high school kids looking for a basketball home. A true student-athlete, had he not made it in the NBA, Brogdon’s fall back was likely medical school. He went to college for 5 years and finished with 2 degrees. How appealing is that to hot-shot high school kids who have no real interest in 5 months of college education, much less 5 years and 2 degrees? Not very.

This is not to say that the Virginia program is void of ACC talent. Quite the contrary. It is just different than any other program in the ACC and most programs in the nation. CTB and his staff find the right “fits” for the program and develop that talent over time. London Perentes anyone? Joe Harris? Both of these recruits garnered collective yawns from the recruiting services and did little to boost the “ranking” of Virginia’s recruiting classes – yet both were All-ACC performers and are playing professionally in the NBA (Perentes making his debut with Cleveland last week)

The tough reality for Virginia fans is that recruiting for Tony Bennet is going to run in cycles.

Scan Virginia’s roster and you will find 5 active redshirt players (Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, Jay Huff, & De’Andre Hunter), with a 6th (Francesco Bodocci) in progress. Intermixed with the redshirt players are talented recruits who have played since their arrival in Charlottesville.

A couple of interesting points about the redshirt strategy at Virginia besides the fact that I love it: First, if CTB can get kids with the maturity and foresight to see the advantages both athletically and academically of taking a redshirt year, Virginia is already ahead of the game. The second key point – not all of the redshirt players are off the radar “fliers”. Diakite, Huff, Hunter, and Hall were all top 40-100 recruits. In each of these instances, Tony Bennett has taken talented, highly recruited kids and taken their least productive years in Charlottesville as overwhelmed freshmen adjusting to the speed of the game and learning Virginia’s stifling pack-line defense and traded it for their most productive year as a 5th-year senior. Devon Hall is the classic example of why this is an outstanding strategy – if you can find the right kids.

The redshirt strategy is also why Virginia’s recruiting will run in maddening cycles. Top 40 kids with talent enough to crack any line-up in the nation aren’t coming to Virginia. Top 40-100 recruits in 2018 look at the Virginia roster and see it is packed with talented players, 4 of whom have a redshirt season under their belts and lots of eligibility remaining. From their view, Virginia might be a 2 year wait before they garner significant minutes. Is anyone shocked those kids have, thus far, decided to start their college careers elsewhere? So for his ’18 class, Coach Bennett made the best pitch he could for kids who would light up the recruiting rankings and missed. Top 100 recruits can look at a roster, watch the steady progression of current players, and decide if Virginia is the right fit for them. In 2018 they decided it wasn’t.

2019 will be a different story. Significant minutes will be up for grabs when Devon Hall, Nigel Johnson, and Isaiah Wilkins graduate. There might still be a wait (or hopefully a redshirt year) in the future for top 100 kids coming to Virginia in the 2019 class, but there are more routes to playing time and the wait for significant minutes might be one year away instead of two.

All of this is not to say there is not risk in Tony Bennett’s strategy. His last two recruiting classes are more “London Perentes” than “Kyle Guy”. Sometimes Bennett misses on a recruit – a player does not develop like we all hope or runs out of patience competing for playing time. From the 2017 & 2018 recruiting classes, I will be shocked if all 4 turn out to be strong ACC players. Maybe he has found the next Jared Reuter instead of the next Joe Harris. We just don’t know yet, but it is highly unlikely that CTB whiffs on all 4 players. It is more likely that CTB found at least 2 more London Perentes or Jack Salts who can help Virginia stay at or near the top of the toughest basketball conference in the nation.

The most important reality for Virginia fans is that there is not another path to basketball relevance. I have not spoken to any fans who want to play the one & done game. That space is already occupied. Kentucky, Duke, and uNC have sacrificed their academic integrity for the right to remain basketball blue bloods. I don’t fault them for it, but it is just the stark reality. Virginia does not have a history and a story to compete for top 15 recruits with these programs, so a head-2-head strategy to “out-Duke” Duke is doomed for failure. So CTB and his staff will compete for kids in the bottom half of the top 100, look for hidden gems, and redshirt as many as possible.

The 2017-18 season is just underway and Virginia has already climbed the polls based on their performance to date and history of quality play the past 6 years. Virginia’s ranking may be a little lofty this early in the season, but this team is packed with talented players many of whom have an extra year of development and maturity under their belts. When March madness rolls around, I expect Virginia to be in the thick of it again – playing maddening defense that will confound opponents and irk journalists. If Virginia is going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament in March it will be on the backs of redshirt players augmenting the production of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.

Virginia won’t have as many NBA players on the roster in 2017-18 as Kentucky or uNC, but they might win as many or more games. Winning is the best and Virginia basketball does it a lot. Winning differently and I would argue in better fashion, is what makes Virginia a truly standout program. We can thank Tony Bennett and his staff for the return to the top of the basketball pyramid, but we have to endure the recruiting realities of being the different kid on the block. My best advice for Virginia fans, trust Coach Bennett, trust the system, trust the recruiting, and strap in, its a good ride – maybe not as good as the bitcoin ride, but it likely has a higher probability for sustained success.

It’s not a Homer Pick if my Team can Win it All

As much as I love the Louisville Cardinals basketball team, I always muse that it’s much easier to remain objective picking my March Madness bracket if the Cards don’t make the field.  Now, that’s typically a rare occurrence, and fortunately, over the last decade or so, UofL has been in the discussion as a national title contender, so picking them to win isn’t an outlandish proposition.  This past Monday, I rapidly completed my bracket, and immediately tweeted my prediction that Louisville will win it all.  Within minutes of making announcing my choice, I had several friends drop the “Homer” label on me.  So, I ask the question, is it really a homer pick if the team you root for is a legitimate contender?  I say no.  Ponder that as you read through my predictions for the entire bracket.

East Region

The defending Champion Villanova Wildcats reside here, and it’s their region for the taking.  Jay Wright’s team is battle-tested, and looks more than capable of a repeat.  Let’s not be too hasty, as there are a number of hazards on the road to Phoenix.

Dangerous on Day 1:

Watch out for the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.  Kevin Keatts is from the Rick Pitino coaching tree, and he has put together a dangerous squad.  In last year’s tournament, the Seahawks pushed Duke to the limit in the Round of 64 before losing a hard-fought game by just eight points.   The Seahawks will push the pace and play pressure defense, which will be in direct contrast to Virginia, as they get another ACC foe this year.  If UNCW can dictate tempo, it could spell early round trouble for the Cavaliers.  While Tony Bennett’s team is always one of the toughest defensively, their style keeps opponents within striking distance, which could play right into Wilmington’s hands.

Early Exit:

Baylor ripped off 15 straight wins to open the season, and looked like an elite team.  While the Bears aren’t completely abysmal, an early disappearing act may be on its way.  Baylor is 5-5 over its final 10 games; and is scuffling enough that a loss to New Mexico State in the opening round, or a run-in with a powerful and hungry SMU team in the Round of 32 should be the demise of Scott Drew’s club.

Pivotal Match-Up:

The most critical match-up to affect this region will be Virginia vs. Villanova, part two.  Part one on January 29 was an absolute classic, as the Cavaliers led most of the way, on the road no less.  The Wildcats scratched and clawed their way back into the game late, and won 61-59 on Donte DiVincenzo tip in as time expired.  I suspect round two will be just as grinding as the first meeting, only with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.  I have Nova surviving it, but no matter which team comes out of it, they’ll be in prime form to make it out of the East Region.

Dark Horse:

Fittingly, the SMU Mustangs are the dark horse in the East.  A bit under the radar, and under -appreciated coming out of the AAC, Tim Jankovich’s team has something to prove.  The Mustangs have an awful lot of length, and a ton of experience, led by the powerful Semi Ojeleye.   The Ponies haven’t lost since January 22 at Cincinnati 66-64, and the Bearcats finished just a game behind SMU in the standings.  Facing a favorable #3 Seed in Baylor, and then a Duke team which is heavily reliant on young players, there’s a strong chance the Mustangs can aptly fulfill the dark horse role.

Who Wins the East?

I’ve gotta stick with the Villanova Wildcats.  Whether the Cats have it in them to repeat once they arrive at the Final Four, I can’t say, or at least won’t say just yet; but this team has enough talented pieces to chase a mini dynasty.  With a rock-solid backcourt of Jaylen Brunson and senior leader Josh Hart, along with last year’s hero, senior Kris Jenkins, it would be a good bet to book a reservation for Nova in Phoenix.

West Region

The OCD in me loves that we actually got two western teams as the top seeds with #1 Gonzaga and #2 Arizona.  It feels like there’s a real opportunity for the west coast to get some representation in the Final Four; and in the case of Zona, have a distinct home court advantage.

Dangerous on Day 1:

The West has many double-digit seeds that I think can stop some hearts in the Round of 64.  Xavier is one, although they’re not an under-the-radar candidate.  The same goes for VCU.  However, the 12, 13, 14 seeds, Princeton, Bucknell, and Florida Gulf-Coast may also pose some problems.  My personal pick is Bucknell.  The Bison have the mid-major formula of solid veteran guards, along with sufficient frontcourt size, which leads to upsets.  Guys like Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland, and Stephen Brown may inject themselves into the American consciousness with a win of West Virginia, and potential battle with Notre Dame.  The West may be blown up by day two.

Early Exit:

West Virginia is my odds-on favorite to get bounced.  Naturally, as I picked Bucknell, as my double-digit danger choice; and the Bison face the Mountaineers.  Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with West Virginia.  Bob Huggins’ team got plucked in the Round of 64 last year, and feel like a good candidate to get bounced, in what could be a topsy-turvy region.  If I had to pick another top seed that may be at peril, it would be Florida State.   Leonard Hamilton has put together a talented group led by sophomore 6-7 guard Dwayne Bacon.  However, these Seminoles haven’t experienced the tournament yet.  If the Noles get past Florida Gulf Coast, the Round of 32 could be the end of the road.

Pivotal Match-Up:

A Sweet 16 tilt between Gonzaga and Notre Dame is my key match-up for this region.  Mark Few has had the Bulldogs on the precipice of the Final Four in the past, only to have his talented, expectation-laden teams fall short.  This rendition of Gonzaga has a go-to star in Nigel Williams-Goss, and plenty of heft manning the middle with Przemek Karnowski.  Many feel like this is the year for the Zags to finally break through.  Not so fast.  The Golden Domers are essentially the same team that has been to the Elite Eight the past two seasons.  Mike Brey’s team is led by the versatile Bonzie Colson, and has plenty of exterior firepower as well with Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.  I think the Irish make a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight, and leave Gonzaga fans longing for that elusive Final Four run.

Dark Horse:

The aforementioned Notre Dame Fighting Irish team is my dark horse.  Yes, the Irish are a #5 seed, but certainly are not considered favorites to escape the region.  The experience on hand, along with the tournament success this team has gained over the previous two seasons, makes Brey’s team extremely dangerous.  Assuming Notre Dame gets past Gonzaga, there’s no reason that Arizona, or whichever opponent finds their way to the Elite Eight, can’t be eliminated by the Fighting Irish.

Who Wins the West?

I’ve barely mentioned the Arizona Wildcats up until now, but Sean Miller’s squad is my choice to win the West.  The Wildcats are at the top of their game heading into the NCAA Tournament, having won nine of their last 10 games, including capturing the Pac-12 tournament title.  6-5 sophomore Alonzo Trier is a do-everything type of player and 7-0 super frosh Lauri Markkanen is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the country.  Miller just missed the Final Four in 2015.  This year he’ll get Zona to Phoenix for a shot at the National Championship.

Midwest Region

The Midwest Region seems to have laid out fairly well for my Louisville Cardinals.  Without a doubt Kansas can’t be taken lightly as the #1 seed.  However, #3 seed Oregon just lost a key player.  #4 Purdue is good, but definitely not elite, and the Cardinals have already beaten the Boilermakers.  And #5 seed Iowa State has been a huge disappointment the last few years come March.  Of course, I say this, and the entire region could blow-up in my face.

Dangerous on Day 1:

When I look at the Midwest, I think chalk.  It just feels like a section of the bracket that will end up staying to form, as few of the double-digit seeds feel like a huge upset threat.  If I had to guess which teams have a shot, I’d point out Nevada and Vermont.  The Wolfpack won the Mountain West regular season, and tournament titles, and closed the season winning eight in a row.  The Catamounts haven’t lost a game since December 21, closing out the regular season with 21 wins in a row.  Both teams face opponents – Iowa State and Purdue – which have displayed the propensity to get clipped early in the tournament.  Beware.

Early Exit:

I referenced in my Midwest Region Preview yesterday, that Oregon’s biggest challenge heading into the NCAA Tournament is the loss of Chris Boucher to injury.  Most teams that suffer loss of key personnel typically either rally around it, or sulk and lose focus.  My bet is on the latter.  Top player Dillon Brooks can be a star, but he also has his own meltdowns and antics which distract from the team.  Round of 64 opponent Iona played NCAA tourney participants Florida State and Nevada early in the year; and knocked off Nevada in the second match-up.  The Ducks will likely get past the Gaels, but my prediction is that Oregon will run into red-hot Rhode Island, and get shot down quickly.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It may seem a bit early to be considered a pivotal match-up, but the potential Kansas/Michigan State game will play a major factor in this region.  The Spartans have been down this season.  So down, that for a while it felt like Tom Izzo’s team wouldn’t make the Big Dance.  Well, here come the Spartans, landing at a #9 seed, just in time to bug the hell out of top seeded Kansas.  Honestly, there’s no reason the Jayhawks shouldn’t knock off MSU.  However, the one major weakness for Kansas is in the frontcourt where Bill Self’s team is a bit thin.  That just happens to be a strength of the Spartans.  If Kansas escapes, it will likely propel the Jayhawks to great fortune.  If not, the Midwest Region really opens up.

Dark Horse:

#11 seed Rhode Island is the sleeper in this region.  The Rams closed strong, winning eight of nine; and have a win over Cincinnati under their belts early in the year.  Undoubtedly, URI starts with a difficult contest against #6 Creighton, and would likely have to take on #3 Oregon in the Round of 32.  With the way the Rams are playing, solid inside-outside balance, and up-and-coming Dan Hurley at the helm, Rhode Island has the look of a Cinderella.  I envision the Rams riding that late-season success into an Elite Eight appearance.

Who Wins the Midwest?

I have the Louisville Cardinals coming out of the Midwest.  As I mentioned in my preview of the Midwest, the Cardinals have their flaws.  Most of those flaws however are self-inflicted.  This is a team that can play multiple defenses, get out in transition, and pick teams apart.  Focusing on applying the death blow is what Louisville needs to add to the repertoire to advance deep into the tournament.  Rick Pitino will adjust the rotations, and as usual, have some tricks he kept hidden all season, which will put UofL on the right path toward the Final Four.

South Region

There’s always one region which seems to have a lion’s share of top programs, and could almost be considered a “Group of Death”.  The South is it this year.  Arguably the top three college basketball programs of all time – KentuckyNorth Carolina, and UCLA – all reside in the South.  What makes this region really fun though, is that in addition to all that tradition, some of the most dangerous double-digit seeds also found their way here.

Dangerous on Day 1:

This one is easy; the most dangerous high seed is #12 Middle Tennessee State.  The Blue Raiders pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history last year, knocking off #2 seed Michigan State.  Much of that squad is back for a second helping, and now they have 6-8 senior JaCorey Williams.  The Arkansas transfer leads MTSU in scoring at 17 points per game.  In the Round of 64, the Blue Raiders get Richard Pitino’s #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Gophers are back in the tournament field after having a miserable 2015-16 season, finishing 8-23.  Without a doubt, Pitino did a masterful job turning this team around, but the visit to the tournament may be short-lived.

Early Exit:

Once again John Calipari has an uber-talented group of freshmen, forecasted for greatness, which captured the SEC regular season and tournament titles.  Kentucky has won 10 games in a row, and may possibly be hitting their stride.  Like most of Calipari’s teams, in-game focus, and reliance on physical ability over substance, are the most glaring flaws.  On most nights, the Wildcats can overcome those.  Enter Wichita State as the foe in Round 2.  Greg Marshall’s team has reeled off 15 wins in a row, and has faced tournament teams, Louisville, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State this season.  The Shockers were also woefully under-seeded by the tournament committee.  That sounds familiar.  Like 2014 familiar when Wichita State was undefeated and a #1 seed, and had to face a Kentucky team that ended up with a peculiar #8 seed.  Turnabout is fair play.  Wichita gets revenge on Kentucky, and sends the Cats packing.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It has to be Kentucky vs. Wichita State.  If my forecast is correct, and the Shockers knock off the Wildcats, then things open up for UCLA.  Not that the Bruins can’t take down Kentucky, they’ve done so the last two years in row.  This year, Steve Alford’s team traveled to Rupp Arena and did it.  Despite my prediction, it will take everything Wichita has to defeat the Wildcats.  Many times, that type of effort leads to a let-down the following game.  If Kentucky gets through the Shockers, then Calipari’s team has vengeance on the mind, and a more talented opponent for the Bruins to have in their way.

Dark Horse:

The Cincinnati Bearcats haven’t been able to recapture the success experienced under Bob Huggins in the 1990’s.  Now relegated to the AAC after the Big East restructure several seasons ago, UC doesn’t garner a lot of respect.  Mick Cronin’s team could punch some teams square in the face and take back respect.  Cincy plays a physical brand of basketball, particularly on the defensive end.  That has been Cronin’s hallmark.  Senior point guard Troy Caupain runs this team with aplomb.  Juniors Gary Clark and North Carolina State transfer Kyle Washington provide a strong frontcourt, to go with the scoring punch of 6-6 sophomore Jacob Evans.  Assuming the Bearcats get by Kansas State in the opener, UC could present a tough match-up for UCLA in the Round of 32.

Who Wins the South?

Although I’m never sold on Steve Alford coached teams, I’ve got the UCLA Bruins getting out of the South, and giving the Final Four its second west coast rep.  There’s an awful lot of talent on board for the Bruins, particularly super freshman Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.  Ball does just about everything, and Leaf leads the UCLA in scoring.       Blend that with veteran contributions from senior Isaac Hamilton and junior Thomas Welsh, and the Bruins have the arsenal available to make a run at the NCAA title.

THE FINAL FOUR:

The first semifinal pits a couple of Wildcats against each other.  Defending champion Villanova against traditional power Arizona.  Nova has all the moxie, veteran experience, and the championship in their hands until someone rips it away.  Josh Hart is one of the toughest players around, and always seems to make the necessary play to win.  I think the biggest difference will be up front.  Lauri Markkanen is getting better by leaps and bounds every game.  The size issue that Zona presents will be the difference as Arizona gets back to the NCAA title game for the first time since 2001.

On the other side of the bracket, Louisville and UCLA square off.  It’s been some time since the Cardinals and Bruins have played, so it’ll be nice to see these traditional powers, and rivals of the 70s and 80s get back together.  The Bruins can put up some serious points, and have an edge in overall depth of talent, but that gap isn’t as large as you’d think.  Getting out in transition is just what Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel want to do for the Cardinals, and if UofL doesn’t have to settle for jump shots, it’s for the best, as that runs hot and cold for the Cards.  The biggest difference here is coaching and experience.  Rick Pitino is a far superior strategist than Steve Alford.  The Cardinals also have several holdovers from the 2015 Elite Eight run, including Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang.  After having to miss out on the Big Dance last year, the Cardinals are hungry for more, and get through to the Championship game.

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

Arizona Wildcats.  Louisville Cardinals.  This is a National Championship game that I crave.  Sean Miller’s star continues to rise, as he brings Arizona back to the prominence.  Rick Pitino continues his master craftsmanship of molding elite basketball teams.  Alonzo Trier and Donovan Mitchell will be the showstoppers.  Much of the talent position by position will be crossed out.  Louisville has the big men to throw different looks at Lauri Markkanen, and limit the freshman’s impact on the game.  The X-factor will be junior point guard Quentin Snider.  Q can very quietly step up in the biggest moments, and his control of the game, and perhaps a big shot or two, will decide this one.  Rick Pitino gets his third, and the Louisville Cardinals grab their fourth National Championship.

E-mail Damon at damon.delrosario@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Virginia Basketball – If it Ain’t Broke…

An unusual thing happened last week. Someone actually read one of my articles. It was then generously posted to the very active and opinionated Wahoos247 Forum where an internet food fight ensued over the future of the Virginia basketball program. I thought it was worthwhile commenting the differing opinions on the paths to Virginia success

It is my strongly held opinion that Virginia basketball is on the right track and that facts support my position. Tony Bennett has cracked the code to winning in big time college basketball without sacrificing the values and traditions of The University at the altar of the NCAA tournament gods. Virginia is on an historic trajectory. While Virginia can and should continue to upgrade the overall talent in the program, Coach Bennett’s system and program is not predicated on being a “one & done” NBA farm team. I would contend that most of Virginia’s fan base and donor community does not want Virginia to become another NBA minor league franchise, even if that is the price for an NCAA crown.

Shockingly, not everyone agrees with me. There is a vocal contingent of the Virginia fan base that enthusiastically believes Coach Bennett needs to step up the tempo of his program. Their belief is that top talent is required to win the NCAA tournament and that Virginia will never attract required talent with our current pace of play. They contend that while we don’t need to be a run & gun program, we need to push the fast break and create more secondary break opportunities. This is what top shelf talent wants in their pre-NBA experience and Virginia needs to adjust or stagnate at current levels of success.

Borrowing General McAuliffe’s reply to the German request for surrender in the Battle of the Bulge, I say “Nuts!”

It is important to note that no matter which side of the argument fans fall, everyone speaks of Tony Bennett in glowing terms. The man, the coach, the mentor, Tony Bennett is an exceptional leader. Some just want him to evolve his program from where it exists today into a more recruit-friendly, mainstream-fan friendly pace of play.

Unfortunately for that segment of the Virginia fan base, the facts are the facts. Virginia is on an historic run of success under Coach Bennett. For the first time in Virginia basketball history, Virginia will make the NCAA tournament for the 4th consecutive year. Virginia made the tourney 3 years in a row under both Terry Holland and Jeff Jones, but Tony Bennett will eclipse those marks this year. Depending on how well Virginia does in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, in 2017 Virginia will win the most games in program history over any given four-year period. Additionally, over the past 6 years, including the current incomplete season, Tony Bennett has won more games than any other 6-year period in UVa basketball history. Tony Bennett’s teams win. They win with a unique and consistent brand of basketball against the best teams in the nation that sport the top ranked talent in the nation.

Those clamoring for adjustments to Coach Bennett’s program as well as those like me who feel that we are on the correct path want the same thing. We all want to see Virginia win the NCAA tournament. We just disagree on how we get there.

For the same reasons that I wrote the initial article on Virginia basketball, I remain convinced that Tony Bennett has Virginia on a path to win it all in the near future and that dramatic change to the program would be the least likely path to success.

During the “Sampson Years”, Virginia’s other golden era for basketball, Virginia’s success was tied directly to its talent level. Specifically, Virginia’s success was tied to Ralph Sampson, arguably college basketball’s best player ever. When Ralph graduated, Virginia basketball was still good, but it was no longer in the national conversation and it declined over time as Virginia was not able to attract the talent to contend with college basketball’s blue-bloods. Finishing second for top recruits like JR Reid and Alonzo Mourning, no one was complaining about Virginia’s pace of play back in the day. Virginia was just the perpetual silver medalist for the top players in the country.

By contrast, Virginia’s current success is linked to its system, to its culture, and to its maddening defense and deliberate offense. Winning the Virginia-way requires exceptional attention to detail and basketball acumen. An unassailable 6-year record of success unquestionably suggests, that this is the recipe for Virginia to remain among college basketball’s elite programs. Talent levels for programs like Virginia will spike and recede. Virginia will never, in any scenario, sign a plethora of 5-star, top 25 recruits year in and year out like Kentucky and Duke. Instead, Tony Bennett and his system will weather the fluctuations in program talent and continue to win.

Ralph Sampson playing for Virginia was one of the most exciting times in the history of Virginia athletics. It was also a fluke. It is possible that Virginia could sign a player of Ralph’s talent again and keep him for 4 years…it is also possible that I could win the lottery next week too.

Rather than tie Virginia basketball success to selling our souls for the services of 18-year old, pre-NBA prima donnas for a single season, I would rather follow the path that has led us to the greatest sustained period of success in Virginia basketball history. Continued program success, winning big games against the elites of college basketball, and graduating players like Justin Anderson, Joe Harris, and Malcolm Brogdon to successful careers in the NBA will keep good talent interested in playing at UVa. Will it be top shelf, one & done talent? Nope. Do we need that type of talent to win it all? Nope.

As my investment advisor tells me, “past performance is no guarantee of future success”, but for Virginia basketball, it provides a pretty good roadmap of how Virginia can remain in the national conversation for a sustained period of time. Dramatic change to the current course and speed of Virginia basketball would also violate one of life’s most time-tested tenets…if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

E-mail David at david.rayner@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Virginia Basketball, It’s Complicated

Nothing is easy with Virginia athletics. Games that look like Virginia blowouts turn into nail-biting wins or heart-breaking losses. National recruits that bring joy when they commit to Virginia have run into academic troubles or been booted for violating team rules. So it’s understandable that Virginia fans forgot their heritage the past 3 years when Virginia basketball won 89 games along with ACC regular season & tournament titles.  We got a little bit spoiled. We thought after grueling football seasons, basketball would be easy. Nothing is easy. Many Virginia fans forgot the first rule of Virginia athletics this winter.

While not easy, Virginia basketball is different. Virginia is led by a coach who has a system that wins…a lot. Like a good investor coach Tony Bennett sticks by his principles and with his system even when short term results are not what Virginia fans have come to expect. Defense first, protect the ball, never get into a run & gun shoot out against a team full of sprinters when you are a team packed with distance runners. Play the game you can win, not the game casual basketball fans and many high school recruits want to see. Ahhh… the recruits. This is where Virginia basketball gets hard.

Let’s get one thing straight about Virginia basketball. Virginia will never seriously compete for the double-elite high school players who want spend a year auditioning for the NBA while pretending to be college students.  Kentucky signed more 5-star recruits (6) in 2013 than Virginia has signed in the history of the program. Kentucky signed five more 5-star kids in 2016 and 3 more the year before that. Virginia will never sign recruits with the high school resumes of kids that Kentucky and Duke sign every year. If an 18-year old’s objective is to build a highlight reel while breezing through a semester of pseudo-college classes, then playing in the pack-line defense (or sitting on the bench of you don’t learn it well enough) for Tony Bennett at Virginia is going to be a perpetual non-starter.

Before we curl into the fetal position and start rocking ourselves to sleep, Virginia just smoked a very good North Carolina team. UNC is packed with McDonald’s high school All-Americans who can practice all day because their ‘classes’ aren’t really classes at all. North Carolina runs the up-tempo offense that NBA scouts and high school recruits adore, yet Virginia beat them convincingly playing Tony Bennett basketball.

The soothing reality for Virginia fans is that unlike football, Virginia can win a basketball national championship. However, it is going to look dramatically different than Kentucky, Duke, or Louisville who are more than willing to sell their basketball souls for another championship banner.

Virginia is different. Not just because it plays good defense and routinely wins games scoring less than 60 points. Virginia is different, in a good way, because it develops its players. It has seniors. Virginia signs kids who are solid top 100 recruits the nation, sometimes top 50 recruits…and then it frequently redshirts them. Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, and Diandre Hunter were all top 100 recruits and they all have been redshirted or are redshirting.

Devon Hall is a redshirt junior. He is having the best season of his career. He is a leader on the team. He is an incredibly smart player.  He plays ridiculous defense. At 6-5 he is developing into a solid offensive presence, both in the paint and out. He is stronger and more athletic than at any time in his career. Thanks to Tony Bennett’s system and the maturity of the kids he recruits; Devon Hall will be back next year. Tony Bennett traded what would have been a largely unproductive and frustrating freshman year for Devon Hall for what will be by far his best and most productive season…next season.

What makes Tony Bennett’s program so interesting and I would argue exciting, compared to the traditional college basketball blue-bloods-turned-opportunists, is that he is playing the long game. He knows he is not going to sign top 10 recruits unless one of those actually kid wants to actually go to college… and learn to play grueling defense before he shows off his windmill thunder dunk. To steal a baseball analogy, Tony Bennett plays small ball. He is not banking on big homerun hitters to win games with dramatic grand slams. He is going to hit singles, bunt, steal bases, hit & run to manufacture enough offense to win while his stifling defense frustrates the opposition into mistakes.

There are no surprises when kids come to play for Tony Bennett. The players are bought-in to the system and want to do what it takes to win in a proven system. They clearly like winning and do it a lot, despite the sheer talent stacked against them on any given night in the ACC. While Virginia is not often the Las Vegas betting line underdog based on the success of the program, Virginia is the non-NBA farm team underdog every season. Virginia is different, winning the hard way. Virginia has more in common with “Rudy” than the Fab-5 or Phi-Slamma-Jamma. Winning year in and year out using an unusual system with underdog kids has tremendous appeal.  I think that’s a big part of why John Paul Jones arena is one of the most exciting venues in college basketball and Scott Stadium…is not.

The chatter amongst those who know basketball far better than me is that Jay Huff and Diandre Hunter have the most NBA potential of all the players on the Virginia roster.  Neither will play a minute this season for a team that has at times struggled to close in games it clearly should have won.  Why aren’t these kids playing now? Would Virginia have won one or all of the Villanova, Miami, Va Tech, or Syracuse games with a little help from these talented freshman? Probably, but it’s not part of the plan for Virginia basketball. It’s not how Tony Bennett plays the long game.

It’s complicated.

E-mail David at david.rayner@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: David Rayner

Grayson Allen is Trippin’ (Again)

If you were watching Duke beat Elon last night, or if you turned on Sports Center in the last day, you will see Grayson Allen decided it was a wise decision to trip Elon’s Steven Santa Ana. This is the third time Allen has tripped an opposing player in the last year and it has since been announced that Allen will be suspended indefinitely. This is a change of pace as he was not suspended the first two times he tripped an opposing player.

Grayson Allen is a damn good basketball player and he is the face of one of the best programs in the country. He also needs help. Allen showed last night that he clearly has a hard time dealing with the stress of competition. After he was assessed a technical foul for the trip and was consequently benched, Allen threw a temper tantrum on the bench as if he was a toddler and his favorite toy was taken away.  Then after the game he proceeded to break down and cry through his whole media session. This behavior is what is expected of a 12-year-old playing 6th grade basketball and dealing with having a bad game for the first time. It should not be the behavior of one of the top 20 college basketball players in the country.

Allen was suspended indefinitely by Duke and most would assume this will be a few games until they play a good team.( See #21 Florida State Jan 10) I think Allen needs to be out for a way longer period. This tripping incident is a symptom of a bigger issue and Allen needs to get his head on straight before he seriously injures someone or has an episode like this off the basketball court.

Allen is not the only one that is to blame. Coach K and the Duke basketball staff are also at fault. Forget for a second he has done this twice before in a game. He has to have acted out like this in practice before. There is a behavior pattern with Allen and it looks like whatever, if anything, was done to prevent the behavior is not working. For whatever reason, winning was put ahead of discipline and respect for the game. Allen was not reprimanded enough the first two times he behaved this way and the person who is hurt the most is Allen.

Don’t worry about Duke. They have a roster loaded with talent and could probably win a national title without Allen. That doesn’t change the fact that Allen needs to get himself under control. If he doesn’t, there will be a headline with his name in it, but it will be for something far worse than tripping.

 

Photo Via Wikipedia

Who Will Further the Irish’s Success in 2016-2017?

ACC media day this week means one thing for me: hope is reborn. Notre Dame football has been like a car crash I can’t take my eyes off of, and finally, I can shift my focus to basketball. After two consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the Irish are primed to make another run at the ACC title and advance deep into March. Head coach Mike Brey has done wonders to turn Notre Dame into a serious threat in the conference, and he’s sent three players to the NBA in the last year.

Two years ago, a team predicted to finish in maybe the top five of the ACC defied the odds and won the conference tournament. The 2014-2015 Irish didn’t stop there. As a No. 3 seed, the Irish knocked off Northeastern, Butler, and Wichita State on their way to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979. That team, led by standout guard Jerian Grant, was one shot away from upsetting Kentucky and making the Final Four.

The next year, everyone expected a slight dip in performance, considering Grant and Pat Connaughton had left for the NBA. However, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste stepped up and filled their shoes. Jackson provided the guard play that many feared would be lost with Grant’s departure, and Bonzie Colson stepped up to dominate the paint. The Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year, eventually falling short to North Carolina, 88-74. Jackson and Auguste will not be back this year for the Irish.

Considering the Irish have lost the bulk of the talent that brought them success, what can we expect from them, and who will step up and make plays when it counts? The absence of Jackson and Auguste is huge, but nobody should be surprised if the Irish don’t struggle to replace them. Bonzie Colson averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg despite averaging just 25 minutes per game. Colson has proven that he can play as a big man, grabbing rebounds and banging bodies with the best of them. Austin Torres and Matt Ryan can provide help off the bench as well.

V.J. Beachem will have to be the guy who controls the ball and dictates the tempo. Beachem really came into his own last season, especially in the tournament. He will be seeing a lot more of the floor this season, and Brey will expect him to pick up the scoring after he averaged 12 points and four rebounds per game last year. Expect him to play a much bigger role this time around.

Also expect to see a lot of Rex Pflueger and Matt Farrell, both of whom played major roles in the postseason last year. Pflueger and Farrell can both handle the ball very well and are more than capable of running the offense and creating points.

Despite the exits of several key players over the past two years, Brey and the Irish hope to continue manufacturing success through the strength of their bench. Facing a tough ACC slate, the next generation of Notre Dame basketball must rise to the occasion if they will once again challenge for the conference title and play well into March.

Contact writer John Horlander via email: john.horlander@campuspressbox.com or on Twitter @John_Horlander

Image via Flickr -Thomson20192

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Mike Krzyzewski is as Overrated as Roy Williams is Underrated

When the question of the best coach in men’s college basketball gets asked, many immediately respond with Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He has over 1,000 career wins, five NCAA Championships and is currently the man leading USA Men’s Basketball at the Olympics.

His career numbers are impressive — since the 1983-84 season he has only missed one NCAA Tournament. There’s been 12 Final Fours, 12 ACC regular season championships and 13 ACC conference tournament championships.

From the 96-97 to 00-01 seasons Duke won five straight regular season titles. The final three years of that stretch included three straight ACC tournament championships to go with the regular season titles. There were two Final Four’s, with an NCAA Championship in 00-01.

That was easily the most dominant stretch of Coach K’s coaching career.

While Duke won the NCAA Tournament in the 2014-15 season, it’s been six years since they’ve won the ACC regular season, and five since they’ve won the ACC Tournament. That’s a decent drought for a coach considered head and shoulders above his peers.

Back to the question — Who is the best coach in men’s college basketball? How many names were brought up before Roy Williams? I personally don’t put him in my top 5, which is telling since North Carolina is one of three teams I follow closely.

He’s often labeled as a coach who gets by with the talent on his roster, one who lacks the ability to make in-game adjustments. Sometimes it seems as if UNC finishes games with more timeouts than they started with.

Furthermore, there’s criticism that he’s been unable to land top-tier high school prospects in recent years. It’s pretty impressive when you can be accused of relying on your team’s talent, while also being blasted for the lack of it.

Williams has won 16 regular season conference championships, including seven as the head coach of UNC. He has two national championships in eight trips to the Final Four.

Yet, he’s overlooked by the public, underrated amongst his own fan base.

Where Coach K and Duke don’t have an ACC regular season championship in six years, Williams and UNC have three. That’s telling for two elite coaches in the same conference — with a large gap in how they’re perceived by the public.

Coach K very may well be the best coach around, but good ol’ Roy deserves some respect as well.

For what it’s worth, here is my top 5 list of active men’s college basketball coaches:

  1. Rick Pitino (7 Final Fours, 2 National Championships)
  2. Tom Izzo (7 Final Fours, 1 National Championship)
  3. Mike Krzyzewski (12 Final Fours, 5 National Championships)
  4. John Calipari (4 Final Fours, 1 National Championship)
  5. Jim Boeheim (5 Final Fours, 1 National Championship)

Active wins leaders:

  1. Mike Krzyzewski, 1043
  2. Jim Boeheim, 989
  3. Roy Williams, 783 (8 Final Fours, 2 National Championships)
  4. Rick Pitino, 743
  5. Bob Huggins, 719 (2 Final Fours)

While I applaud Krzyzewski for building Duke into the power it is today, I still can’t shake the feeling that too many of his teams in recent memory have underperformed. Top-level talent should produce consistent top-level results — both in the regular season and postseason.

This is why I give Pitino and Izzo the top spots, they’ve done more with less.

Coach K is overrated — somehow the coach who has won more games than anyone, hasn’t won enough. Roy Williams is underrated — viewed as a man just trying not to screw up a program that runs itself.

‘Tis how it goes when you’re the head men at Duke and North Carolina.

E-mail Zak at zak.kushner@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Bryan Horowitz

Good For College Basketball: Grayson Allen Returning to Duke

As the Villanova Wildcats cut down the nets in Houston for their first NCAA Men’s Basketball championship since 1985, a number of college basketball pundits reflected on the season in a negative light. While this college basketball season did not feature a team nearly as dominant as last year’s Kentucky team, the balance throughout the tournament field presented the opportunity for a tremendous tournament. However, with the exception the first few days of days, and the national championship game, close contests were few and far between. This raises the question that some pundits have raised; has college basketball lost some of its appeal?

While lifelong college basketball fans will always hold the tournament near and dear to their hearts, the casual sports fan might hold a different opinion regarding the Big Dance. One significant reason this might be case is the increased number of “one and dones” that elect to leave college after one season in hopes of capitalizing on a lifelong NBA dream. Despite a number of these players being ready for NBA play at younger ages, this trend has had an extremely negative impact on the college game. A greater emphasis has been put on recruiting, with player development being placed on the backburner, as the nation’s best young players all have one eye on the NBA before stepping foot onto a college campus.

As the number of one and dones continues to rise each and every year, one player from Duke University went against the grain by announcing that he will be returning to Duke for his third season of college basketball.

Grayson Allen became a household name for fans of college basketball after surprising the Wisconsin Badgers with 16 points of the bench in last year’s National Championship game en route to Duke’s fifth championship in school history. While the Blue Devils were burned by the departures of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones, Allen was able to assert his dominance this season, leading Duke in scoring, assists, and steals. As this year came to a close in the Sweet Sixteen, Allen was left with a major decision to make regarding his future. Would he forgo his final two seasons at Duke in hopes of making an immediate impact in the NBA, or would he show loyalty to school and head coach that gave him the platform to showcase his tantalizing craft?

While there was little debate as to what Duke teammate Brandon Ingram would decide as he is projected as a top three pick, Allen’s case was more on the ambiguous side. Allen was projected by many as a late first round pick with the potential to slide into the second round. With this in mind, Allen recently announced his plans to stay at Duke for his junior season.

With Allen’s decision to stay at Duke, the Blue Devils are poised for another championship run as incoming freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Frank Jackson will provide Coach Krzyzewski’s team with another monster recruiting class. Combine the talented incoming freshmen with the veteran leadership of Allen and Amile Jefferson, and Duke has one of the most talented teams in the country going into next season.

Not only is Allen’s decision great for Duke and fans of their program, but is is terrific for college basketball as a whole. Through his stellar play and minor on court tripping instances, the media labeled Allen as the next white Duke villain. Allen has found himself amongst the likes of Christian Laettner, Steve Wojciechowski, and JJ Redick in the minds of almost every media personality. With Allen staying at Duke for at least one more year, this storyline has the potential to dominate the college basketball world. While from afar college basketball may have seemed dull to the average fan this season, next year should prove to be much more enthralling and narrative driven.

E-mail Alec at alec.kwait@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @alec_kwait.

Photo: Duke University Athletics