College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Duke 63, Clemson 62

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

  1. Don’t trust Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This is admittedly a harsh assessment, and the Blue Devils certainly deserve to be listed among the contenders for the title. When they’re hot, they’re borderline unbeatable. And they have a deep rotation of skilled offensive players. But their defense has serious issues. Duke gave up points on nine straight possessions after going up by 13 points in the second half. They scored some too, so it didn’t look like a dominant Clemson run by any means, but what should have been the time Duke put the Tigers away became the time Clemson held on to challenge for the game. Clemson’s offense is mediocre. Those kinds of runs can’t happen, but they’re beginning to seem like standard second half occurrences with this Duke team.
  2. On the other hand, Duke rebounded really, really well. Unlike defense, many concerns people have with Duke don’t make a lot of sense. This is a very good rebounding team, especially when shots aren’t falling like on Friday night. Amile Jefferson is both a capable offensive player — benefitting from not being the focal point of opposing defenses — and a force on the glass. His and Jabari Parker‘s post games mean Duke has no trouble scoring down low. Jefferson has grown a lot over the course of this season. Remember, during the first half of this season, Josh Hairston was playing comparable minutes to Jefferson (and Marshall Plumlee wasn’t playing at all). As a side note, Quinn Cook’s development has flat-lined — for whatever reason he can’t find much consistency. Offensively, I think point guard play is Duke’s biggest concern going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Duke’s Quest For Tempo-Free History Rolls Through Chestnut Hill

Posted by Matt Patton on February 9th, 2014

Since Ken Pomeroy first rolled out his ratings for the 2002-03 season, no team has finished with an offensive efficiency above 124.0 (a record set by Chris Paul and Wake Forest’s 2004-05 team). After trouncing Boston College on the road with its second most efficient game of the season, Duke’s adjusted offensive efficiency for this year is now an astounding 128.9 points per 100 possessions. The Blue Devils steamrolled a small Eagles team with an unbelievable performance from Jabari Parker, who finished with 38 points on 17 shots (leaving five points at the free throw line). They did it with an opening 32-9 run in the first 11 minutes of the second half. They did it dominating points off turnovers (15-3) and second chance points (22-7).

Jabari Parker was a force of nature against Boston College. (credit: Stephan Savoia / AP)

Jabari Parker was a force of nature against Boston College. (credit: Stephan Savoia / AP)

Admittedly, Boston College’s defense leaves a lot to be desired. Good defense doesn’t give up nearly 70 percent shooting over the course of a half at home. But Duke’s offensive polymathy is what makes them so dangerous. Duke normally has four three-point shooters on the floor at any given time. Once entirely ignored by Seth Greenberg, Tyler Thornton is shooting nearly 53 percent from three-point range (mostly wide open spot-ups). Five truly dangerous shooters (not counting Thornton despite his gaudy percentage) makes Duke a lot less susceptible to “dying by the three,” instead riding the night’s hot hands up the scoreboard.

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Rasheed Sulaimon Crescendos While Quinn Cook Spirals

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 7th, 2014

Rasheed Sulaimon came into this season with high expectations for himself, as did most all of college basketball and Duke fans. Sulaimon had averaged 11.6 PPG in 29 minutes per game as a freshman and was coming back better than before, surrounded by even more talent. The shooting guard position seemed to be Sulaimon’s to lose as well, with freshman and fellow Texas native Matt Jones the only other true shooting guard on the roster. Sulaimon was riding an extreme high after his very successful freshman campaign and his gold medal winning summer on the U-19 USA Team, making him a back-to-back gold medal winner. There were even whispers of the 6’4” Texan making the leap to the NBA, but his draft stock never firmly solidified itself in the first round.

Rasheed Sulaimon rises up to send it to OT versus unbeaten Syracuse (Footbasket.com)

Rasheed Sulaimon rises up to send it to OT versus unbeaten Syracuse. (Footbasket.com)

Unfortunately for Sulaimon, this type of performance didn’t materialize and surrounded by talented offensive threats like Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, he wasn’t having the ball in his hands as much as he would’ve preferred. Sulaimon made his living as a slasher his freshman year, darting into the lane and creating his own shots. With shooters and primary offensive options like Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly spotting up, this worked well for last year’s Duke team. But with Parker doing exactly that at a much higher clip, those lanes were shut down and a lot of touches for Sulaimon were disappearing. Instead of adapting to a new style of play and efficiently playing alongside Hood and Parker, Sulaimon resisted and was thrown into Coach K’s doghouse where he stayed up until recently, even chalking up a dreaded DNP-CD in December against Michigan. Sulaimon didn’t exactly “break out” immediately after that game versus Michigan, playing only 5 minutes versus Gardner Webb. But since the December 19 game versus UCLA, Sulaimon has been improving and playing with a newfound sense of confidence, outside of two outliers at Clemson and Pittsburgh. Read the rest of this entry »

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Has Duke Found the Answer on Defense?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 28th, 2013

Back in late November we wrote about Duke’s historically bad defense. At the time, the Blue Devils were coming off their worst defensive effort of the last 12 years, having given up 90 points on 1.38 points per possession in their home squeaker against Vermont. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski was extremely upset and vowed that great improvement must be made on the defensive end of the floor. Five games later, it’s now a good time to see how much progress Duke’s defense has made in the intervening month of action.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Was Pleased With Duke's Defense In Win Over UCLA (Photo: Mark Dolejs - USA TODAY Sports)

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Was Pleased With Duke’s Defense In Their Win Over UCLA
(Photo: Mark Dolejs – USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s take a more detailed look at the team’s defensive numbers from the first six Duke games through that dreadful Vermont performance on November 24. Then we will compare those statistics to what the Blue Devils have done in their last five games heading into the Christmas break. Here are the key defensive statistics from the first six games:

  • 1.07 - Opponents’ Avg Points Per Possession for All Games
  • 1.08 – Opponents’ Points Per Possession vs. Duke

By applying Ken Pomeroy’s principle of adjusting for competition, we come up with an Adjusted Defensive Rating of 1.05 PPP for Duke’s first six games. That number would currently put Duke’s defense at around #200 in the nation in Pomeroy’s ratings – lousy defense indeed. Now that’s look at the same metric for Duke’s last five games:

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Three Questions Previewing Duke and UCLA Tonight

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2013

When Duke and UCLA lock horns for the first time in 11 years tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City (7:30 PM EST, ESPN), plenty of offensive fireworks figure to be on display. These teams are elite offensively with UCLA ranking third nationally in points per game at 89.1 and Duke not too far behind at 86.0. For as potent as these teams are offensively, their defenses leave a lot to be desired. What we have is a recipe for an up-tempo game, lots of points, and a fun viewing experience. There are also plenty of intriguing match-ups in this game when you look at each squad’s style of play. While their statistics are similar, the teams are constructed very differently. Let’s take a look at three key questions that will decide the result of this contest.

Steve Alford, UCLA

Steve Alford Brings His Bruins to MSG to Face Duke Tonight (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

1. Can UCLA guard the three-point line?

Much has been made of Duke’s defensive issues but defense has also been a problem for Steve Alford’s Bruins, especially when it comes to guarding the all-important three-point line. The Bruins’ 2-3 zone was torched by Missouri in their only loss of the season back on December 7. Missouri made 10 threes which proved to be the primary difference in the game. As a whole, Duke shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc and 45 percent of all Blue Devils’ field goal attempts are triples. Mike Krzyzewski’s team features four lethal perimeter threats and that may be too much for the Bruins to handle. While UCLA’s zone may help contain Duke’s versatile forwards from cutting to the basket, it opens the door for a Blue Devil three-point bombardment. Alford may be forced to extend the zone but his team’s performance will come down to the effort of guards like Norman Powell and a pair of freshmen (Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford) getting out to cover Duke’s shooters.

2. Will Duke be able to prevent UCLA from getting into the paint?

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ACC M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 5th, 2013

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  1. Raleigh News & Observer: The story of the night was North Carolina dismantling Michigan State in East Lansing. Roy Williams has owned the Spartans since taking the helm in Chapel Hill, and his team flat outplayed Izzo’s in every respect. But James Michael McAdoo‘s struggles continued, as he finished 3-of-11 from the floor, 2-of-6 from the free throw line, and grabbed only four rebounds. It’s starting to look like Brice Johnson (14 points on 11 shots) and Kennedy Meeks (15 points on eight shots) will see more of McAdoo’s playing time. To be fair to McAdoo, his game isn’t suited for the three position (where a lot of his minutes are coming thanks to North Carolina’s thin roster on the wing), but with the way the current frontcourt is playing, it’s hard to argue that the Tar Heels would be better off with him back at power forward.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Nearly all the talk from Duke’s rout of Michigan Tuesday night was about the Blue Devils’ newfound toughness, defense and rebounding (probably all correlated), and that was certainly the biggest story from the game. But a sidenote to the game was that Rasheed Sulaimon earned the old DNP (coach’s decision). Afterwards Tyler Thornton cut straight to the point: “As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do,” Thornton said. “We need him. That’s all I can really say about that.” However, I was struck watching the game that Sulaimon needs to step up quickly not because Duke needs him but precisely the opposite. If he’s in some proverbial Coach K dog house, it doesn’t help for Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton to piece together Duke’s best wing defense of the season (with Andre Dawkins providing his patented spark off the bench). Still, Thornton is right in that Duke needs Sulaimon on the court to achieve its potential this season.
  3. Sports Illustrated: CJ Fair is quietly filling the “go-to” guy role for Syracuse this year — at least, that’s the perception (largely thanks to some clutch shooting against Baylor in Maui). And don’t get me wrong, Fair’s athleticism and mid-range game still make him one of the best players in the conference (and he’s Syracuse’s most important offensive player not named Tyler Ennis). But he’s the least efficient Orange starter by a significant margin thanks to his proclivity to turn the ball over. Part of that is due to the offense Fair often runs (high-risk isolations), and there’s no question he makes his teammates better. But he needs to cut down on his turnovers, or running the offense through him will ultimately prove an error in judgment.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Looks like the quest-for-40 joke yesterday wasn’t such a joke after all. Virginia lost to Wisconsin at home despite holding the Badgers to under 29 percent shooting from the field. Only one player eked his way into double figures (Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser with 11). The Cavaliers didn’t hit a field goal during the last nine minutes of regulation nor the first 8:42 of the second half. That’s right, Virginia made a grand total of three field goals in the second half (all in a span of just over two minutes). That’s downright abysmal. Toss in a nearly 10-minute field goal drought in the first half and it’s amazing Tony Bennett’s team kept the game as close as it did.
  5. Soaring to Glory: If December really is make-or-break for Boston College, it’s looking like a break. I guess winning the ACC Tournament is always possible, but more and more that looks like the only way the Eagles will earn a ticket to the Big Dance. Boston College got beat by a not so great Purdue team on Wednesday night. Speaking of guys in the dog house, Patrick Heckmann got all of four minutes against the Boilermakers. Steve Donahue has said Heckmann isn’t hurt, which is confusing to say the least (during his freshman year before contracting mononucleosis, Heckmann was the team’s leading scorer).
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ACC Team Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2013

Duke had a successful 2013-14 season but it will be remembered as three seasons in one. Led by the senior trio of Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, Duke got off to the best start in the country, winning its first 15 games against a very tough schedule. Then Kelly went down with a foot injury and the Blue Devils dropped to merely a good team, going 9-4 without him in the lineup. Kelly’s dramatic return in a 79-76 win over eventual ACC champion Miami gave hope to Duke as a national title contender, but they couldn’t quite get there, losing to a superior Louisville team in the Elite Eight.

Duke Preview 2013

Ordinarily, losing three quality starting seniors would indicate a worse season to come, but thanks to a pair of highly regarded new forwards, Duke is expected to remain a national contender. Mike Krzyzewski has also made it clear that a change in style is coming. Duke will not have the veteran post players it had last year, but it will be a much more athletic and deeper team so look for the Blue Devils to push the tempo on both ends of the court. It’s been said that the makeup of this team is similar to Coach K’s 2012 USA Olympic team. That team lacked a true post scorer and was built around versatile play-making forwards on offense and a switching pressure defense. Look for Krzyzewski to use that experience to build this Duke team in the same fashion.

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ACC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 5th, 2013

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  1. From the Rumble Seat: Here’s a solid look at Georgia Tech‘s less-publicized backcourt. The Yellow Jackets are known for their strong front line, but the backcourt should get better thanks to the transfer of Trae Golden onto the squad. The backcourt questions hinge on whether Chris Bolden can live up to his big performances last year. His overall stats are pretty hideous, but Bolden torched Duke and Miami for big games. If he can tap into that potential, Brian Gregory’s team may be a lot better than many expect.
  2. Fayetteville Observer: Considering Duke‘s recent success, it’s pretty surprising the Blue Devils haven’t won the ACC regular season outright since 2006 (and haven’t even shared the title since 2010). To be fair, the Blue Devils only finished worse than second once (2007), and injuries to starters in 2011 (Kyrie Irving) and 2013 (Ryan Kelly) hurt the team’s chances. But Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston are dangerously close to becoming the first four-year players under Mike Krzyzewski to not win the regular season since 1990.
  3. Washington Post: In the not-shocking headline of the day, Virginia will continue to play Tony Bennett‘s pack-line defense this season. The Cavaliers bring back a lot of talent from last season, which is a new condition for Bennett. This season will actually be very telling in my eyes. If Bennett’s team can make the leap to a top-20 or higher team, all my reservations about his low-tempo system will go on the back burner (mostly, that keeping the score low allows lesser opponents to hang in longer than they should and increases the chance for random events to occur).
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: North Carolina has a ton of talent this season, but plenty of questions to go along with it. The question that no one can answer (at least until they see top competition) is how the hodgepodge frontcourt will fare, or who will wind up playing five this season for the Tar Heels. If North Carolina is going to be the top 10 team that many analysts project, someone has to fill that void at center. Roy Williams needs a competent big man for his secondary break to be at its peak. If one of the bigs doesn’t step up, North Carolina could face a relatively disappointing season this year.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: If you’re looking for very circumstantial evidence that suggests Syracuse has a good chance at getting back to the Final Four this year, this post is for you. The one buzzkill to note is that while about one team a year is a repeat in the national semifinals, that means three others are not. Regardless the (peripherally related) stats make for a good short read.
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Duke Looking to Run Early and Often With This Year’s Roster

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 26th, 2013

Duke’s roster this season is merely a shell of its former self. Gone is the backbone of the team, gone are the three seniors, gone are the leaders, gone are 47.9 PPG. You get the point. Duke lost its three leading scorers and a huge part of its 30-win Elite Eight team. Yet people are excited about the prospects of this team, even perhaps more excited than last season. Duke returns both its junior floor general, Quinn Cook, and its sophomore shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, Rasheed Sulaimon. Another two McDonald’s All-Americans return in sophomore forward Amile Jefferson and redshirt sophomore center Marshall Plumlee. Where Duke changes up the offensive schemes and flips the script is with the two future NBA swingmen on the roster, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and blue-chip freshman Jabari Parker.

Quinn Cook calls Duke's new offense 'a point guard's dream' (USA Today)

Quinn Cook calls Duke’s new offense ‘a point guard’s dream’ (USA Today)

Don’t be mistaken, though, Duke is still Duke. They will continue to have shooters spotting up around the arc for open looks: postgraduate sniper Andre Dawkins, freshman Matt Jones, Sulaimon, Cook, and even senior perimeter stopper Tyler Thornton all can and will fire away with a green light from deep. But as ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan pointed out in a recent excerpt about Duke, Mike Krzyzewski above all adapts to his team’s strengths. And with a team full of athletic and versatile players like Parker, Sulaimon, Hood, and Jefferson, Krzyzewski has this year’s team poised to run early and often. “Last year’s team couldn’t run like this team can now,” senior captain Thornton exclaimed.

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ACC M5: 10.25.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on October 25th, 2013

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  1. Clemson Athletic Department: Big news last week out of Clemson, as the Board of Trustees approved a rebuild of Littlejohn Coliseum. If you haven’t been to Littlejohn, it’s quite an experience. Very few arenas in the ACC get as loud (Cameron Indoor, maybe) as Littlejohn when it’s packed with Tiger fans. For the 2015-16 season, Clemson will play off campus while the stadium is getting rebuilt. Clemson wants “the most-connected on-campus facility in the nation” for basketball operations. Here’s to hoping they keep the awesome acoustics. More on this as the additional details are released.
  2. Charlotte Observer: ACC historian Barry Jacobs takes a look at the now tired “conference image” comparisons that have dominated discussion of Big East teams joining the ACC this year. Jacobs hits the nail on the head when he says that the leagues were judged based on postseason play, where North Carolina and Duke contrasted with the physical Pittsburgh and Louisville. And for a while, I think there was a different style of officiating. However, the tough physical game has now spread into the ACC with its new coaches (while one of its least physical teams – Boston College – hails from the Big East). The fact is, coaching style rather than conference affiliation dictates physicality.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: The NCAA released its graduation rates for the last six years, and the results were mostly very strong and especially good for the ACC. Looking at all sports, the ACC had six of the top 10 schools nationally (though five schools tied for 10th). That’s incredible. The worst ACC rates for basketball were Georgia Tech (40%), Syracuse (45%), and Pittsburgh (54%).
  4. USA Today: Eric Prisbell confirmed what many had suspected and hoped about Duke‘s team this year: The Blue Devils are going to play fast. “100 miles per hour for 40 minutes,” according to senior point guard Tyler Thornton, while Rodney Hood noted that, “We are trying to be one of the fastest teams in the country.” With Duke’s athletes this season, that team could be very close to unguardable with the new emphasis on preventing defensive hand-checks and forearm shivers.
  5. WRAL: North Carolina players are looking for Joel James to be a breakout star this season. He only started playing organized basketball during his sophomore year of high school, so it’s no wonder that he struggled with fundamentals and the pace of the game last season. But if his veteran teammates are to be believed, he’s going to play a much more important role this year. That would be huge news for North Carolina, as James has the potential to be a beast down low eventually. James’ development also explains Roy Williams claims that the Tar Heels won’t be playing small ball this year even if they do play two point guards.

EXTRA: Next month Dean Smith will be among those awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It goes without saying that that’s a huge honor.

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ACC M5: 10.18.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on October 18th, 2013

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  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Jamie Dixon doesn’t sound too worried about the new rule changes that are designed to open up the floor a little for offensive players: when asked about the new rules, Dixon retorted, “We will see if they are going to call it.” Pittsburgh‘s defense under Dixon is known for being some of the most physical in the country, although the Panthers don’t rely on hand checks nearly as much as Louisville. But Dixon hit on the most important part of the supposedly drastic changes: They don’t matter unless they’re enforced. These aren’t new rules like the unpopular elbow rule; they’re changes in emphasis. Duke’s Tyler Thornton, for one, isn’t thrilled with the stricter definition of charges.
  2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Brian Gregory got some big news yesterday, as Tennessee transfer Trae Golden received a hardship waiver that will allow him to suit up this season for the Yellow Jackets. Golden will give the team much-needed experience at the point guard position, where sophomore Solomon Poole struggled mightily last year. Poole had an unthinkable turnover rate of 44.5 percent — meaning he turned it over on nearly half the possessions he was involved in. Golden won’t make Georgia Tech a contender, but he should make them much tougher to beat.
  3. Boston Globe: Boston College felt much more respected this year at media day. The Eagles were picked eighth, a far cry from their last place pick a year ago. Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson are the real deal. Don’t be surprised if both end up on all-ACC teams when all is said and done. Dennis Clifford – sidelined much of last year with a nagging knee injury — may prove the difference between being a dangerous team and a team that makes then NCAA Tournament, though you don’t want to be too optimistic about a guy rehabbing two knee surgeries. Regardless, Steve Donahue’s squad should be fun to watch.
  4. Washington Post: Akil Mitchell leapt onto the ACC scene last year as an athletic double-double machine who made watching Virginia much more enjoyable. This wasn’t the first time Mitchell surprised people on the basketball court: In middle school he was cut twice (thanks to being the damning “stout and slow” according to his father), in high school he couldn’t dunk as a 6’5″ sophomore (to teammate and rare dunker Seth Curry’s chagrin), and he had his offer revoked by George Washington. It will be interesting to see how Mitchell deals with moving from the upstart underdog to a much better-known star role this year.
  5. Notre Dame: Mike Brey’s team will be without sophomore forward Zach Auguste for the next four to six weeks according to a school release. Auguste broke his hand in practice last week. This deals a blow to the team’s frontcourt, which needs to find a way to replace star Jack Cooley. While he likely won’t miss “important” games, Auguste will miss valuable time getting used to his expanded role.

EXTRA: Make sure to catch part two of Walker Carey’s chat with Len Elmore, Mike Gminski, and Bret Strelow.

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