With the ACC having already secured a landslide victory in its annual challenge with the Big Ten, Thursday night promised to offer some respite into the one-sidedness of the competition.
Well, the Big Ten added to its paltry win total, but there wasn’t much in the way of competition as No. 3 Michigan State walloped No. 5 Notre Dame, 81-63, to improve to 6-1 on the season and send the Fighting Irish to their first loss of the season.
The Spartans controlled the game from the outset, getting up big early and withstanding a second-half charge from the Irish. Notre Dame, especially at the Breslin Center, was simply no match for Michigan State.
Josh Langford and Cassius Winston both had 17 for the Spartans with Winston also contributing seven assists. Miles Bridges had 14 points and Nick Ward 12.
Bonzie Colson led the way for the Irish with 17 points while Rex Pflueger had 15.
It was a dominating performance from the Spartans, who have made a habit of being dominating since that Champion’s Classic loss to Duke. Their last five wins have all come by at least 18 points.
Here’s what we learned Thursday:
Michigan State at full-bore is scary good
The Spartans were dominant for about 30 minutes of this game, having to withstand about a 10-minute second-half push from Notre Dame. When they were on, it was clear that Michigan State is among the top tier of teams that appear capable of winning a national championship. Duke’s win over Tom Izzo’s team and its run through the PK80 has them at the front of the line right now, but the Spartans aren’t far behind.
Against a top-five opponent, Michigan State shot 51.4 percent in the first half despite 4 of 13 from 3-point range. The held the Fighting Irish to 37.9 percent shooting (3 of 11 from 3) and forced six turnovers to be 20 points better heading into halftime.
There was that lull from the Spartans after halftime – and give credit to Notre Dame for punching back – but Michigan State still at least 12 points from four starters and nine from Matt McQuaid off the bench. Jaren Jackson was the sole starter not to break 10 points, but foul trouble limited to 14 minutes and he still managed three blocks.
It’s not surprising or news to notice that Michigan State is really, really good, but it’s still impressive to see them at full stride.
Bonzie Colson is awesome, but does have his limitations
The Notre Dame senior is one of the best players in college basketball. He’s incredibly fun to watch as a 6-foot-5 forward with an expansive wingspan. The guy gets buckets.
But when faced with a defender with size, length and/or athletcism, it can cause problems for him.
That’s what happened Thursday night.
Colson was 6 of 19 from the floor (31.5 percent) against the Spartans, who were able to throw a number of defenders at him, though it was Jackson (6-10 with a 7-f wingspan) that really gave him fits. What makes him so strong is his efficiency, and Michigan State took that away completely.
Miles Bridges shouldn’t settle for jumpers
Michigan State’s star had a so-so night with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and a block, but he was 6 of 15 from the floor and committed three turnovers in 32 minutes. The biggest issue for Bridges is that he wasn’t getting to the rim in the halfcourt with much consistency, instead launching 3s. He made just 1 of 7.
Bridges can make 3s. He’s actually a pretty good shooter from distance, having converted at a 38.9 percent clip last year and coming in at 36 percent this year. But he’s too much of a dynamic physical weapon with his size and athleticism to shoot from 3 that much, taking the pressure of a defense that would likely nothing more than to avoid the prospect of getting dunked on by Miles Bridges. He’s shot at least five 3s in four of Michigan State’s seven games.
If Bridges can use the 3-point shot more as a strategic threat than principal play, it’ll go a long way.
The Spartans are going to blow through the Big Ten
The Big Ten got absolutely waxed in its annual matchup with the ACC, dropping 11 of 15 games. It’s a pretty good indication that the league, as a whole, just isn’t as strong as most years. Minnesota and Purdue have probably looked the best of the potential contenders, but neither of those teams appear to be at an elite level.
That really just leaves Michigan State to carry the banner for the conference this season, and, as noted above, they are more than capable of doing just that. The Spartans appear poised for a No. 1 seed in a couple months, and, given that it won’t be surprising if they clear the Big Ten by three or more games, the conversation will likely be about their worthiness for the top overall seed.
NEW YORK (AP) — Myles Powell scored seven of his 19 points in a span of 45 seconds to lift Seton Hall to an 89-79 victory over No. 22 Texas Tech on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Powell was one of four Seton Hall (6-1) players to finish in double figures. Desi Rodriguez finished with 24 points while Khadeen Carrington had 16 and Angel Delgado 12.
Keenan Evans led the Red Raiders (6-1) with 21 points while Jarrett Culver added 17, Zach Smith 12, Zhaire Smith 11, and Niem Stevenson 10.
Texas Tech entered the game fourth in the nation allowing 55 points per game.
Trailing by three at halftime, Seton Hall outscored Texas Tech 31-22 in the first 12:42 of the second half to take a 70-64 lead.
For a team possessing an interior presence in Delgado, Seton Hall was able to take a lead not by dumping the ball into the post but with its perimeter attack. The Pirates made four 3-pointers and knocked down seven jump shots in all during that stretch.
Following a missed free throw by Norense Odiase, Powell drilled a 3 to extend Seton Hall’s lead to nine, then drew a player control foul on Stevenson.
One minute and thirty-two seconds later, Carrington’s running leaner in the lane gave put the Pirates ahead 75-65. Before Carrington’s basket, Seton Hall grabbed four offensive rebounds sandwiched around a missed free throw.
Texas Tech twice cut the deficit to six, first on Evans’ two free throws with 3:05 left, then on his layup 53 seconds later. That was as close as the Red Raiders would get, as Powell made a 3 and converted two layups in a 45-second span to put Seton Hall ahead 86-73.
The Pirates outrebounded Texas Tech 37-33. Seton Hall shot 50.8 percent from the field (30 for 59), including 55 percent from 3 (11 for 22).
SETON HALL: During his news conference immediately following the 75-74 loss to Rhode Island in the NIT Season Tip-off on Nov. 23 at Barclays Center, Pirates coach Kevin Willard was at a loss to remember the last time his team allowed a team to score 54 points and shoot 60.7 percent in an opening half. Seven days later, Seton Hall yielded 42 points and 56.3 percent shooting to Texas Tech in the first half.
TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders entered the game ranked in the top five nationally in scoring defense (4th overall with an average of 55.3 points) and field goal percentage defense (2nd overall at 33.5 percent). They may drop because Seton Hall finished with 89 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field.
SETON HALL: The Pirates improved to 1-1 all-time against Texas Tech. Seton Hall dropped an 87-69 decision to the Red Raiders on March 16, 2010, in a first-round NIT game held at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
TEXAS TECH: The most points the Red Raiders had allowed in a half this season was 31 to Boston College on Nov. 18. That was until Thursday night when the Pirates scored 39.
SETON HALL: Travels to No. 17 Louisville on Sunday.
TEXAS TECH: Hosts Nevada on Tuesday.
Rick Pitino is coming for money he’s owed from Louisville’s decision to fire him.
The Hall of Fame coach is seeking more than $35 million in a federal breach of contract lawsuit against the Louisville athletic association that was filed Thursday, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Pitino was fired by Louisville last month as part of the fallout from the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. It was alleged that $100,000 was funneled from an adidas executive to the family of a recruit, believed to be top-25 prospect Brian Bowen, to steer him to Louisville.
“(Pitino) had no part whatsoever in any scheme to pay the family of a UL recruit, or to otherwise improperly provide benefits to any recruit, as an inducement to join the basketball program,” said Steve Pence, Pitino’s lawyer, said in a statement to the Courier-Journal.
Pitino previously filed a lawsuit against adidas claiming the apparel maker damaged his reputation. His suit against Louisville alleges that the school did not have reason to fire him “for cause,” which would allow the school to not pay Pitino the buyout in his contract which was scheduled to pay him $4.3 million a year through 2026.
Louisville is currently 4-1 under interim coach David Padgett, who took over the program after Pitino’s firing.
Wednesday night’s disastrous performance in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was more or less the nail in the coffin for the Big Ten’s hopes of a strong non-conference résumé.
The ACC won five of the six games that were played on Wednesday night. With one game left remaining in the series — No. 5 Notre Dame’s trip to East Lansing to visit No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday night — the Big Ten has already taken the worst beating in the series in more than a decade.
The ACC won 11 games.
The Big Ten won two: Nebraska picked off Boston College and Purdue beat No. 17 Louisville at home.
That’s not good, not when the middle of the league has been where so much of that disappointment has stemmed from.
At this point, there appear to essentially be three tiers in the Big Ten hierarchy. Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue are all varying degrees of good. Rutgers, Ohio State and Nebraska are three teams we can be reasonably sure are not all that good. The middle, however, is where the league has had issues.
Who is the fourth-best team in the Big Ten?
Is there a fourth-best team in the Big Ten?
And this is where it gets complicated for league members trying to build NCAA tournament-worthy profiles.
Based on history, Wisconsin should be the fourth-best team in the league, right? But the Badgers are currently sitting at 3-4 on the season with losses to No. 21 Xavier, No. 16 Baylor, UCLA and No. 18 Virginia. The best non-conference games they have left on their schedule come against Temple and Marquette, neither of whom are looked at as lock-tournament teams.
Entering the season, Northwestern was the trendy pick to return to the NCAA tournament but they’ve lost their three-toughest games of the season, including a home loss to No. 25 Creighton and a 36-point evisceration against No. 22 Texas Tech. The Wildcats have a critical game at Oklahoma on Dec. 22nd that could turn out to be a difference-maker for the tournament hopes.
Maryland beat Butler and Bucknell but lost to Syracuse and St. Bonaventure. There isn’t another quality win left on their schedule until league play starts. Iowa has been a mess, losing three of their last four and getting embarrassed by Virginia Tech. Michigan took a loss to LSU and got smacked around by North Carolina. Penn State lost to Texas A&M and N.C. State, although they didn’t suffer the indignity of losing to Pitt, while Illinois lost to the only “quality” opponent they’ve played this season, Wake Forest.
That doesn’t even factor in Purdue’s loss to Western Kentucky or Indiana losing by 21 points to Indiana State at home.
The danger now is not only the number of Big Ten teams that are going to have strong enough profiles to get at-large bids but just how many quality wins are actually going to be available come conference play. When a conference puts together a strong non-conference season, it makes their computer profiles look that much better and, in turn, makes them better wins and less-bad losses for opponents in the league. As the saying goes, all ships rise with the tide.
And, in the Big Ten’s case, vice versa.
Which makes games like Northwestern’s visit to Oklahoma, or Indiana facing off with Notre Dame and Louisville, or Michigan taking on UCLA all that much more important.
The league needs some wins.
Or they’re going to lose some bids on Selection Sunday.
I think it’s time for us to have a conversation about No. 1 Duke.
The Blue Devils are, rightfully, the No. 1 team in the country.
They are undefeated on the season with wins over Michigan State, Florida and Texas as well as Wednesday night’s victory over Indiana in a raucous and rowdy Assembly Hall.
They’re 9-0 on the season, and two of the guys on their roster are going to be in the mix for All-American, if not National Player of the Year, come season’s end.
And yet, if you’ve watched these games, you’ve probably come away feeling a little unsure about this team. After all, they looked like the No. 1 team in the country for all of about 20 minutes during the PK-80, when they erased a 16-point second half deficit against Texas and a 17-point second half deficit against Florida.
They never really looked like a title challenger against Indiana, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, and it took an out-of-body experience from Grayson Allen for the Blue Devils to put away Michigan State.
I was joined by myself on Thursday to talk through everything Duke, from the travel to the defense to how much you can trust a team that seems to only win games late.
ME: In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue against just how impressive Duke’s wins are. Florida is a Final Four team. Michigan State can win a national title. Texas has shown second weekend upside. I don’t care how bad Indiana will be this season, getting a win in that arena and in that atmosphere in the first true road game for a team where eight of the nine rotation players are either freshmen or seldomly-used sophomores is not easy to do.
But the way Duke went about getting those wins is a major red flag. How can you trust a team that consistently digs themselves a hole? How can you trust a team that hasn’t proven they can defend for 40 minutes? It’s great that they’ve been able to flip a switch and turn into their best selves with five minutes left, but why can’t Coach K get them to play like that for 40 minutes instead of five minutes?
ALSO ME: Those are valid concerns, and I’m not sure that there is anyone saying they aren’t. But what you have to remember with this group is that they are young. They are inexperienced. There are some issues with depth that have yet to be addressed. Sometimes it takes freshmen a while to learn how to play at the college level and that’s what we’re seeing with Duke, except that they aren’t losing games while doing, at least not yet. Of course they’re not a finished product three weeks into the season, so I’m more pleased about the fact that they have guys that can find a way to win even when things aren’t going right than I am worried about how freshmen look like freshmen.
ME AGAIN: But have the freshmen really looked like freshmen? The four in the starting lineup are all averaging at least 12.8 points. Marvin Bagley III is putting up 22 and 11. Wendell Carter, the “other” freshman big man, is putting up 13 points, nine boards and 2.3 blocks a night. Trevon Duval is averaging 13 points and six assists despite the fact that he cannot shoot. Even Gary Trent Jr., who has probably had the most underwhelming start of any of the four, has made a habit of making critical, winning plays.
So who actually looks like a freshmen?
HELLO. IT’S ME: All of them, once you get past the counting stats.
BACK TO THE FIRST ME: So Marvin Bagley III, National Player of the Year front runner, is playing like a freshman? Are you off your meds?
ME NO. 2: Yes, but that’s neither here nor there.
Bagley has been dominant, there is no question about that, but acting like he’s played flawless basketball is kind of silly. He gets worn out during games, although some of that has to do with how hard Duke rides him. He was exhausted for long stretches against Indiana and decided that getting back in transition defense was optional. That’s what freshmen do. Veterans either get back or sub themselves out to get a breather.
And he’s not alone there. Duke’s man-to-man defense is a mess. Their zone isn’t all that much better. KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric ranks Duke as the nation’s 46th-best defense, but that isn’t telling the whole story. KenPom’s formula is still using some predictive elements from last season’s team, and if you look at Duke’s raw defensive numbers, they ranks 102nd in points-per-possession allowed. They don’t force turnovers and they don’t get defensive rebounds. That combination is less-than-ideal, and it’s the biggest reason the Blue Devils keep putting together these slow starts.
They can’t get stops. It happens with freshmen-laden teams.
ORIGINAL ME: And what is it about the way that Duke has defended over the course of the last four or five seasons that leads you to believe that they are going to be able to figure this thing out by the time March rolls around? Only once since 2011 has Duke finished as a top 25 defense, according to KenPom, and that came the year that they won the national title, when they entered the ACC tournament as a defense ranked outside the top 60.
OTHER ME: That certainly is a concern, but since the season started, tell me when Coach K has actually had a chance to regroup and find a way to fix what ails Duke.
They played nine games in 19 days. They’ve traveled to Chicago. They played three games in four days in Portland — including a title game that ended at 1 a.m. ET Monday morning — before heading to Bloomington for a Wednesday tip in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When have they had the time to get on their practice court and solve their problems? They haven’t.
And that’s to say nothing of the fact that these kids have been run into the ground by now. Bagley played at last 38 minutes in each of the last three games. Allen played all 40 minutes in the last two games and like would have against Texas if he didn’t get into foul trouble. Duval has topped 35 minutes in each of the last four games. Other than Carter, who seems to be physically incapable of staying out of foul trouble, Trent is the starter getting the most rest and he’s still clocked more than 33 minutes a night over the course of the last four games.
I just don’t think you can truly judge them until they’re back onto a relatively normal schedule.
FIRST ME: I get that, but if the issue really was that they were exhausted, wouldn’t that mean that Duke died at the end of these hard-fought, competitive games? If their legs are shot, explain this stat: In the final five minutes (and overtime) of Duke’s last three games, the Blue Devils have held Texas, Florida and Indiana to a combined 5-for-25 shooting and outscored them 56-19.
At the end of games.
At the end of an insane two weeks of travel.
After their best players have played 30-35 minutes already that night.
And you’re going to try and tell me that the reason they start slow is that they are too tired? It’s too early to have started drinking.
FINAL ME: It’s never too early for that, but no, that’s not what I’m saying.
My point is that the way Duke’s first three weeks have played out makes it difficult to truly get a grasp on who they are. Maybe they are a bad defensive team that has been bailed out by the fact that their front line is utterly unstoppable. Maybe they’re a good defensive team that just has to spent a couple of days at practice tweaking what clearly hasn’t been working to date. We don’t actually have an answer yet.
And we won’t until their schedule normalizes.
But at the end of the day, this is a team with two potential all-americans, five or six potential NBA players and a 9-0 record with four impressive wins that they didn’t necessarily play well enough to get.
If they can overcome adversity while still trying to figure things out, if they’re learning lessons without taking losses, the only thing I keep asking myself is what this team will be if and when they do put it all together?
Scary, that’s what.
ME: Whatever. You’re still an idiot.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Marvin Bagley III finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds and Grayson Allen added 21 points to help No. 1 Duke get past pesky Indiana 91-81 on Wednesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
It sure wasn’t easy for the Blue Devils (9-0), who needed a late 17-4 spurt to finally pull away for their first true road win of the season. Wendell Carter Jr. had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Indiana (4-3) was led by Robert Johnson with 17 points and De’Ron Davis with 16 as its three-game winning streak ended.
Duke turned what had been a back-and-forth game with a 10-4 spurt to close the first half, taking a 42-38 lead. When the Blue Devils jumped to a 52-42 lead just 94 seconds into the second half, it looked they would pull away.
Instead, the Hoosiers charged back with seven straight points, tied the score at 57 on Collin Hartman’s long 3-pointer and took the lead when Hartman made two free throws with 12:17 left to make it 61-59.
Neither team could take more than a two-possession lead until Gary Trent Jr.’s three-point play gave Duke an 86-77 lead with 2:24 left.
Indiana never seriously challenged again.
Duke: The Blue Devils might be even better than advertised. They’ve won nine games in 20 days, beaten two Top 10 teams and now have their first true road win. No, it wasn’t pretty, but they get the job done.
Indiana: The Hoosiers fought valiantly. They played defense, took care of the ball and hung around most of the game. It was an impressive performance, a better effort and the first big indication that new coach Archie Miller is getting things on track in Bloomington.
Duke: Hosts South Dakota on Saturday, its first home game since Nov. 20.
Indiana: Opens Big Ten play Saturday at Michigan.