College Basketball Nation: Jabari Parker

As a freshman at UCLA in 2013-14, guard Zach LaVine averaged 9.4 points on 7.8 shots, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24.4 minutes per game. In late March, after Florida ended UCLA's season in the Sweet 16, LaVine's father, Paul LaVine, told the Los Angeles Daily News that his son -- a too-thin backup guard who scored 11 points in his final five games -- would be one-and-done.

People mostly laughed.

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDuke forward Jabari Parker, who averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds during his freshman season, is entering the NBA draft.
Some of it was the fatherly bravado in Paul LaVine's quotes. He said the decision was like a "divorce," and that NBA scouts "loved" his son. LaVine's godfather, Marvin Carter, told the Daily News that he admired the job UCLA coach Steve Alford had done with the team in general, but nonetheless wished Zach "had more of a chance to compete." And there was nothing more for LaVine to do at UCLA.

“Every year he spends at UCLA after this one is a waste,” Carter said. “It really is.”

LaVine, for all of his obvious potential, was not exactly Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, so all of this stuff was pretty funny. Others saw something more sinister: The NBA and its agents tempting a player who wasn't ready with the promise of freedom and riches. The 19-year-old age limit rearing its ugly head once more to the detriment of all involved.

The problem with all of the jokes is that LaVine's family was right: LaVine has as good a chance to develop in the NBA as he did as a college basketball player.

To insist he didn't was to insist that college basketball owns a monopoly on player development. The scoffs stemmed from the idea that a player must be ready to play in the NBA from the moment he steps into the league to have any hope of long-term success, that development stops at the draft decision. Much as the collective college hoops consciousness may like to think this is the case, it's not.

Just ask Duke's Jabari Parker:
Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions:

Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player?

Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court?

The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.

That was Parker, writing with Jeff Benedict for Sports Illustrated Thursday, announcing his decision to turn pro. The announcement is about as unsurprising as draft decisions get: Parker is practically guaranteed to be a top-three pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and top-three picks almost never turn down the draft.

Still, if there was any player for whom such a decision may have made sense, it was Parker. He's a thoughtful dude with a genuine desire to earn a degree. He played for Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest college basketball coach ever and a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner. Duke has world-class facilities and fan support. There are few better places in the world for a teenage college basketball player to develop on or off the court.

Plus, as Parker wrote, a loaded 2014 Duke class is led by his "good friend," center Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player in the country. If Parker had returned, Duke would have been favored to win the national title from now until next March. (That starting lineup -- some combination of Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Parker and Okafor -- is terrifying even as a hypothetical.)

And none of it was enough to keep Parker in college.

There are good financial arguments for the NBA, of course, and Parker is good enough that he doesn't have to take the short-term risk that, say, LaVine might. Parker is an obvious NBA talent with a decade of potential to mine until his peak. LaVine is all risk-reward. But the larger point remains: Parker had about as good a collegiate situation as any player could ever ask for, and was nonetheless convinced that the NBA was the better place for him to "grow and develop" in every facet of his life.

Whatever new NBA commissioner Adam Silver eventually proposes to replace the current age limit -- and all signs are that Silver would very much like to make a change -- this is a key consideration for folks on the college side to understand. The argument has always been framed much differently. College basketball was the place to develop. The NBA was the place to get paid. How long until those distinctions blur entirely?

So, now that we're a week away from the Wooden Award luncheon in Dallas, how does the Los Angeles Athletic Club and its Wooden Award advisory board actually go about deciding this thing? Helpful explanation from the club itself is provided here:

Voting is opened to the national voting panel prior to the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. Voters may vote via an online system that allows them to evaluate players up until just after the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. The official accounting firm of the John R. Wooden Award, Deloitte, tabulates all votes.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesCollege basketball had to say goodbye to Doug McDermott after Creighton's early exit from the NCAA tournament.

In other words, the votes are already in, but that doesn't mean voters can't take the NCAA tournament into account. Do they? Hard to say. Should they? Your mileage might vary. Either way, let's take a quick look at how the Wooden candidates might -- or might not -- be affected by their tournament performances.

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Cue up Boyz II Men's "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" for this one. Last week, McDermott finished his college career with 3,150 points, fifth all time on the scoring list, but his team played -- and shot -- its worst game of the season against Baylor's long, tricky zone and couldn't press effectively to try to get back in the game when it was over. The result was an 85-55 blowout, and a tearful McDermott exited to a standing ovation. The only thing more of a bummer than the way McDermott ended his career was that he had to end it at all. We'd happily sign up for another year. In any case, he's still your runaway Wooden Award favorite.

2. Russ Smith, Louisville: Smith hasn't played particularly well in the NCAA tournament thus far, which is just like him. As much as Smith has frustrated coach Rick Pitino in his mostly brilliant Louisville career, he is just as frustrating for pundits who go all-in on praise, because he usually follows that praise with a quirky off night under the bright lights. For most of this season, though, he's been brilliant. How he plays in the Cardinals' Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky could define his legacy.

3. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Speaking of legacies, how about the one Napier is putting together at Connecticut? In last week's upset of No. 2-seed Villanova, Napier was lights out before bruising his shin. He left the game in "excruciating" pain. He later reentered, finished a couple of insane drives that only he can make and led UConn to a victory after all. What a player.

4. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker's freshman season, and almost certainly his college career, ended with a whimper. That was true of his team, which made 15 of 37 shots from 3 and still lost to 14-seed Mercer, and Parker himself, who scored 14 points on 14 shots. That finale might hurt him in the final awards voting, to say nothing of his defensive issues, but overall? As single seasons go, Parker's was pretty great.

5. Nick Johnson, Arizona: It has taken most of the country a few months to figure out why Aaron Gordon is so valuable to the Wildcats (because he is a complete athletic freak who can guard every position on the court for the best defense in the country, naturally). But Johnson has kept showing why he's so important, too: Not only is he Arizona's most reliable and versatile scorer, he's a crucial perimeter defender in his own right. Arizona is still in the title hunt as well.

6. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: When was the last time a player on a No. 1 seed saw his draft stock leap this much in a loss? Early was legendary in Wichita State's loss to Kentucky last weekend. His cool, comprehensive, 31-point performance wasn't enough to get the Shockers past soaring UK, but it was enough to simultaneously validate his team's season and his own individual primacy even though Fred Van Vleet 's shot missed right.

7. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: It's a safe bet that much of the country's casual college hoops fandom had no idea who Thames was before the tournament. They figured it out pretty quickly. Thames was great in the first weekend and arguably even better in SDSU's back-and-forth rumble with Arizona on Thursday night.

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Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsShabazz Napier won't win the Wooden Award, but he's putting quite the finish on his UConn career.

8. Casey Prather, Florida: Florida is so deep and talented that when Prather and forward Patric Young sat on the bench with four fouls apiece late in Thursday night's win over UCLA (and Scottie Wilbekin was struggling through one of his worst games of the season), no one in Memphis, Tenn., actually thought the Gators were going to lose. That depth has overshadowed Prather's contributions at times -- Wilbekin, after all, was the SEC player of the year. But from November until now, Prather has been the best and most important player on the best team in the country. Without him, Florida wouldn't be Florida.

9. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Kilpatrick and Cincinnati had a rough go in their only NCAA tournament game, falling victim to Harvard and the strange curse of the No. 5 seed. (Seriously, why do so many No. 5s lose to No. 12s? Doesn't that mean the teams are improperly seeded? Something doesn't compute here.) But, as with Creighton, the Bearcats' early end shouldn't overshadow the magnificent season their star player had in the three dozen games that preceded it.

10. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle has been Kentucky's consistent force all season long. That hasn't changed. He's still beasting the glass on both ends of the court. What has changed are the conditions around him -- better, headier play from the Harrison twins, smart shot selection from James Young, increased energy from Alex Poythress and great defensive contributions from centers Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein. For much of the season, Randle's remarkable frontcourt work was Kentucky's best and only option. Now, it's just the tip of the sword.

Honorable mentions: Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Scottie Wilbekin (Florida) Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Bryce Cotton (Providence)

Five things: Mercer upsets Duke

March, 21, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mercer’s student section started the game with chants of “I believe that we will win,” and the No. 14-seeded Bears followed suit with a 78-71 victory over No. 3 seed Duke in the 2014 NCAA tournament’s biggest upset so far.

Here are five thoughts from the game:
  • This is why experience matters. Mercer started five seniors against Duke. They were not intimidated by the Duke name or playing on the big stage of the NCAA tournament. The trio of Jakob Gollon, Langston Hall and Daniel Coursey carried the Bears offensively. Gollon had 20 points, Coursey 17, and Hall 11 points and five assists. Mercer never strayed from its game plan even as Duke seemed to gain control late in the first half. Trailing by seven with five minutes left in the half, the Bears responded and trailed just 35-34 at halftime.
  • With first-time NCAA tournament participants Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker struggling -- they scored a combined 20 points -- junior Quinn Cook and sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon took control offensively for the Blue Devils. Cook hadn’t shown as much emotion and confidence since early in the season. He set a new career high with seven 3-pointers, and his 23 points were the most he’d scored since netting 24 against Michigan on Dec. 3. Sulaimon nearly matched Cook’s efficiency from behind the arc with five 3-pointers of his own and finished with 20 points.
  • It was strange to see both Parker and Hood struggle the way they did in the same game. The duo combined to shoot 6-of-24 from the field. Mercer’s Gollon, a 6-foot-6 senior, kept Hood from driving and scoring in the lane. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman sprinkled in the use of zone, which kept Coursey, a 6-10 senior, stalking Parker nearby and kept Parker from scoring in the post. The result coaxed Parker and Hood into taking more jumpers than usual and led to their low shooting percentage.
  • Ike Nwamu's lift from off the bench cannot be underestimated for Mercer. He didn’t score a single point in the second half, but his 11 points in the first kept the Bears from fading when Duke got its offense together.
  • Duke’s lack of an inside presence finally caught up to it. The Blue Devils had no one to protect the rim -- Mercer outscored them in points in the paint 26-10 en route to shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. Duke had no one to throw to in the post for high-percentage baskets.

Five things: ACC championship game

March, 16, 2014

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Virginia matched its ACC regular-season championship with a conference tournament title after a 72-63 win over Duke on Sunday. It may have also put an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in play for the Cavaliers, but for now they’ll savor winning just their second ACC tournament title ever.

Here are five observations from Virginia's win over Duke:
  • Need any more proof that the Cavaliers are for real? They have the three areas that generally lead to long NCAA tournament runs, starting with a tough defense that held Duke below 40 percent shooting from the field. They also have a playmaking point guard in London Perrantes. And they have multiple go-to players in Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris for those close-game situations where they absolutely have to have a basket. Brogdon almost single-handedly disproved the theory that the Cavs can't score. He led the team with 23 points and always had an answer when the Blue Devils were making a charge.
  • Jabari Parker is being way more assertive than earlier in the season. At one point in the second half, the freshman forward scored eight straight points for the Blue Devils. One basket came when he stole an entry pass in the post and took it coast-to-coast for a dunk. The next possession he followed with a 3-pointer and -- what’s becoming his trademark -- kissed his fingers. He finished with 23 points but was just 9-of-24 shooting from the field.
  • It’s tough to get to the rim against the Cavaliers. It seems like few teams protect the basket better without a dominant 7-footer in the middle. (Mike Tobey is 6-foot-11 but is not exactly an intimidator.) Their rotations are always timely, and Akil Mitchell and Anthony Gill will surprise you with their shot-blocking ability. Parker and Rodney Hood are used to driving and scoring around the rim, but they found the going a lot tougher against the Cavs.
  • That said, Mitchell could have easily been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. At one point in the first half, Parker squared him up and attempted to shoot a jumper, but Mitchell blocked the shot with his left hand. In the first half, Parker found the going so tough against Mitchell that he resorted to shooting jumpers.
  • Duke sorely needs a consistent backcourt scorer to emerge. With Parker and Hood struggling from the floor, the Blue Devils didn’t have a third option to take over the scoring. Rasheed Sulaimon was held to two points and Quinn Cook had five. Andre Dawkins did have nine off the bench, but Duke will need more in the NCAA tournament.

Brennan's Wooden Watch: Week17

March, 13, 2014

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: On Nov. 21, 2013, the first 2013-14 Wooden Watch column went live. The No. 1 player? Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart. Heady days, right? Smart held on to the top spot for two more weeks before yielding it to UConn's Shabazz Napier. Napier kept it for one week before we pivoted to Aaron Gordon, back when we couldn't decide which Arizona player was most valuable. In Week 6, Jabari Parker assumed the top spot. In Week 8, McDermott rose to No. 1. This is what I wrote at the time:

"As we’ve discussed ad nauseam, the POY award is often about (A) being really good at basketball and (B) building so much perceptual momentum that your honor starts feeling inevitable. Both players have done just that so far. Parker is the insanely gifted freshman; McDermott might finish his career with 3,000 points. If this is a two-man race for the next three months, don’t say you weren’t warned."

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AP Photo/Nati HarnikDoug McDermott has made what was once a captivating race for the Wooden Award into one big victory lap.
Actually, you weren't warned. I was wrong. This hasn't been a two-man race. It's been a joyous, weekly, one-man exhibition.

Were you to scroll through four months of Wooden Watches, you'd notice McDermott's name atop the list in every week since Week 8. But even if you don't read a word, you'll feel his case building. Every week, McDermott's blurb got a little bit longer. Every week, the rest of the list got smaller. Every week, the Arbitrarily Capitalized Doug McDermott Awesomeness Tracker (ACMcDAT) crammed more and more data into bulleted points. In Week 16, after McDermott became the first player since Lionel Simmons to post three straight seasons with 750 or more points, I was almost numb to the numbers. Exhausted, even. He was so good we ran out of ways to say it.

On Saturday, McDermott ended his regular-season career with 45 points on 25 shots in a Senior Night blowout of Providence -- and, in the process, passed the career 3,000-point mark (3,011) with plenty of postseason to spare. The crowd in Omaha, Neb., gave him a stirring ovation. His dad, Creighton coach Greg McDermott, gave him a hug and a slap on the head. In a few weeks, the Associated Press will give him his third straight first-team All-American honor, and make him the first player since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale to do so. At the Final Four, the Los Angeles Athletic Club will give him the John R. Wooden National Player of the Year Award.

For four years -- and especially the last four months -- McDermott gave us more beautiful basketball than any player in decades. The awards will be the least we can do to say thanks.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker might not have come close to making this a two-man race, but that shouldn't obscure the excellent season he's had. While using 31.4 percent of his team's possessions and taking 31.8 percent of its shots, Parker has posted a 113.3 offensive rating. He's also rebounded 24.0 percent of opponents' available misses -- he might not be a great defender, but he's been Duke's anchor on the defensive glass all season. (He's also blocked 4.3 percent of available shots, which tends to get overlooked.) Without him, the Blue Devils would be a good offense and an irredeemable defense. With him, they're great on offense and so-so defensively. His value has been immense.

3. Russ Smith, Louisville: All season, we've been worried that Smith would end up overlooked again. Louisville had a bad nonconference schedule and some stumbles here and there; the Chane Behanan dismissal could have derailed its entire season. And so, despite having the most efficient season of his career -- a year after being the best two-way play in the country, no less -- Smith could have gone overlooked.

We seem to have avoided that fate. Both the USBWA and Sporting News gave Smith first-team All-American honors this week; the Associated Press is likely to follow suit. Meanwhile, Louisville has won nine of its last 10 and is arguably playing the best all-around basketball in the country right now. If Smith's efficient scoring and passing and general Russ Smith-ness haven't impressed you yet, you have ample opportunity to catch up in the weeks to come.

4. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: The only time I've ever felt the urge to give a college basketball player a hug came was Jan. 9, 2012. The post-Kemba Walker UConn Huskies were sloughing their way through Jim Calhoun's final season as coach, and Calhoun was desperately searching for some self-leadership. Napier, then a sophomore, cast himself in the role. His teammates had other ideas:
"I try to tell the guys, I feel as if I’m their best leader. Sometimes they give me a chance, sometimes they don’t," Napier said then. "That’s just how it is. It’s just basketball, I guess. ... I try my best to be a leader, even though guys don’t give me a chance to be that person. It shows in the game, I can’t lie. When we have a tipped ball and big guys get the ball and I’m yelling for the ball back out, we’ve got a new shot clock and they go back up ... that shows I’m not that much of a leader. When a play starts breaking down and I’m yelling, ‘Bring it out, bring it out,’ and Boat or Jeremy takes a shot, that just shows that I’m not a leader. It sucks, because we lose games like that. But I try my best. I’m just a human being, I try to do my best in helping my teammates out."

Two years later, Napier is as respected a player as there is in the college game, both by his teammates and by opponents. It helps that he's as good a guard as there is in the college game, too -- a scorer/distributor/defender capable of bending entire halves to his will. Watching him go from disrespected sophomore to beloved senior has been a treat four years in the making.

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AP Photo/Al BehrmanSean Kilpatrick has been the focal point of Cincinnati's run to an American Athletic Conference co-championship.
5. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Cincinnati's 97-84 win over Memphis on March 6 could fool the casual observer into thinking Kilpatrick is merely the chief among a score of Bearcats offensive options. Not true: For most of the season, he's been the Bearcats' only offensive option. But the March 6 win was a pretty good primer: Kilpatrick finished with 34 points on 11-of-18 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line with zero turnovers. The Bearcats are usually not that fluid on offense; most of the time, they wear teams out on the defensive end and let Kilpatrick do most of the creation on offense. The formula has worked, because Kilpatrick is just that good.

6. Nick Johnson, Arizona: Johnson's season was not without its bumps, the most notable of which came immediately after forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the season to an foot injury. But Johnson has rebounded -- literally and metaphorically -- in the weeks since. He hasn't put up huge offensive numbers, but like Smith, Napier and Kilpatrick, he's one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and maybe the most versatile. Arizona's offense might have taken a post-Ashley hit, but its defense is still the best in the country. Johnson has played a major role in that.

7. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: It's hard not to give this spot to point guard Fred VanVleet. VanVleet was, after all, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, and fairly so: he posted a 131.5 offensive rating with a 33.2 percent assist rate and a tiny 13.8 percent turnover percentage, what my Insider colleague John Gasaway called "a near-perfect season for a pass-first point guard."

So why stick with Early? Because he's the sun around which Wichita State revolves. The Shockers are an ensemble production, sure, but Early is the only player to use more than 22 percent of the team's offensive possessions, using 26.5 percent -- and takes 28 percent of their shots to boot. Tekele Cotton might be the team's best defender, Ron Baker its best shooter, VanVleet its best passer. But Early does all of those things very well almost all of the time.

8. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Thames struggled a bit down the stretch, including one 10-for-50 span that looked like it might knock him out of any and all postseason award consideration. And it did, kind of: Thames wasn't on the Wooden Committee's final ballot. That's a mistake. Thames got back on track in his final three games, including a 23-point, five-steal effort in the Aztecs' grinding regular-season title clincher against New Mexico Saturday, and finished with a 119.1 offensive rating on nearly 28 percent usage (in addition to a 3.4 percent steal rate, a 22.1 assist rate, 38 percent from 3, etc.). The Aztecs finished the regular season 27-3 because they were a) a great defensive team and b) a great defensive team with a reliable star scorer. Thames belongs on one of the All-American teams at the very least.

9. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: On Saturday, Wiggins scored 41 points on 18 shots with eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks. And Kansas lost. Those two sentences don't compute, but if anything, Wiggins' blowout regular-season finale gave us a chance to point out how solid he's been for pretty much all of his freshman season. He's scored reliably, he's rebounded, he's played lockdown inside-out defense -- he's been really good. He hasn't been the second coming. Sometimes, he's been too passive. But many coaches would kill for his baseline production, let alone the possibility he might go off for 41 on 18 at any given time. If he is 75 percent as good in the postseason, look out.

10. T.J. Warren, NC State: For better or worse, the player of the year award is about the value a player contributes to his team's success. You'll notice there aren't too many players on this list whose teams aren't going to make the NCAA tournament. That should let you know just how good Warren was individually for the probably-NIT-bound Wolfpack in 2013-14: He posted a 115.2 percent offensive rating on a McDermott-ian 37 percent of his team's shots; he averaged 24.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and shot 53.2 percent from the field. He finished the season with back-to-back 41- and 42-point efforts (on 17 and 21 field goal attempts to boot) against Pitt and Boston College, respectively.

Warren did all of this despite facing constant double and triple teams for a team that finished eighth in the ACC in points allowed per possession. If the Wolfpack had guarded better, we'd get to see this dude try to singlehandedly take over the NCAA tournament, and the tournament would be better for it. But they didn't, and so, barring an ACC tourney miracle, we won't. Shame.

Honorable mentions: Casey Prather (Florida), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Joel Embiid (Kansas), Marcus Paige (North Carolina).

3-point shot: Wooden omissions

March, 12, 2014

Andy Katz discusses candidates for the Wooden Award, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards.

DURHAM, N.C. -- If Duke freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore Rodney Hood never play another game in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Blue Devils, they gave a performance worthy of a senior night send-off against North Carolina.

Parker scored a career-high 30 points and Hood added 24 -- which marked the first game in ACC play that both players surpassed 20 points -- as Duke beat the rival Tar Heels 93-81. Parker's 30 points were the second-most by a freshman in a Duke-North Carolina game, falling one short of Walter Davis' 31 for North Carolina in 1974.

Neither player has revealed their intentions regarding whether or not they’ll turn pro at the end of the season, but both showed why they’d be coveted by NBA teams as soon as they are ready to declare.

Parker and Hood were so dominant even teammate Rasheed Sulaimon confessed to being transfixed by the way they played.

“It’s crazy kind of watching that,” Sulaimon said. “You’re in the game, but at some point you’re kind of spectating as well when two great players like that just take over the game.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who donned a Duke pullover, and Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo were among the celebrities in the crowd, but it was quite clear who the stars were.

It’s long past the time when Hood can walk around town in anonymity. But after his performance in avenging the loss to the Heels, he can add a Cheshire grin.

“I got tired of walking through Durham with people screaming 'Carolina' at me when I walk through Walmart and stuff like that,” Hood said. “It was a big-time win, I’m just happy to keep the streak going.”

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker, Rodney Hood
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJabari Parker and Rodney Hood joined forces for 54 points Saturday against North Carolina, their best performance as a duo in ACC play.
Duke moved its nation-best home win streak to 33 consecutive games by focusing on its best two players.

In the Blue Devils’ loss to Wake Forest, they got away from going to Parker and Hood in the game’s deciding minutes. Saturday, Duke determined its offense had to go through Parker and Hood to be effective.

“The Wake Forest game gave us a sense of urgency after losing,” Parker said. “We can’t do the same things that we’ve been doing so we had to change, and I think today we have. That’s all that matters is consistency from this point.”

Hood’s three-point play early in the second half sparked an 11-3 spurt that gave Duke all the separation it would need, as the Heels never got closer than eight points after that.

Parker drilled his only 3-pointer in the second half and kissed the fingers on his shooting hand as he ran back down the floor. The 19-point lead effectively helped the Blue Devils kiss North Carolina’s 12-game win streak goodbye.

“I just got lost in the game, they want to share my energy and emotion -- Coach is really big on that -- but not celebrating too much,” Parker said. “I kind of lost myself in the moment. That’s not exceptional: I just got to get my butt back on defense.”

But Parker was exceptional. Carolina tried just about everything it could to slow him down. James Michael McAdoo, who was the primary defender against Parker in their earlier meeting, was in foul trouble throughout.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Five different Tar Heels found themselves trying to defend Parker at some point, from 6-foot-9 forward Brice Johnson, whose reach was supposed to give Parker trouble, to 6-foot-5 forward J.P. Tokoto, whose quickness was supposed to keep Parker from getting in the lane.

Parker got the shots he wanted. During a sequence in the first half, Parker drove baseline past Leslie McDonald, rose over Johnson and made a floater just as Kennedy Meeks was swatting to try and block his shot.

“He was feeling it, he was in attack mode,” Hood said. “We expect more, to be honest. Like Coach said 30 is probably not enough.”

Hood was referring to points, but he easily could have referred to shots. Parker and Hood combined for 30 attempts, with no other Duke player taking more than eight shots. If nothing else, Saturday’s win proved that is the formula for the Blue Devils’ offense.

Parker and Hood need to be the ones leading the way.

“They are a duo that not many people, or nobody else, has,” Duke senior guard Tyler Thornton said.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams would agree. He used zone in the Heels’ win to slow the Blue Devils’ offense down. But Duke, which entered the game shooting 27 percent from 3-point range in its past four games, busted the zone from deep.

Parker and Hood combined for five of the team’s eight 3-pointers, including three of Duke's six in the second half. Whether inside or out, the pair was a problem for the Heels.

“Between Jabari and Rodney we really had trouble trying to figure out a way to try and stop them,” Williams said. “And we still didn’t figure it out.”

Duke even eliminated the one big advantage the Heels were supposed to have. Carolina got outrebounded 34-20, which marked its lowest rebound total since the 1987 ACC tournament championship against N.C. State.

Parker, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, contributed to the Heels' misery in that area, too. With Carolina trailing by 11 with two minutes left, Duke finally missed a free throw (it shot 23-of-27 in the second half), but Parker got the rebound, was fouled and made a pair of free throws. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Parker scored 10 second-chance points.

Carolina shot 59.6 percent from the field. It was the first time during Williams' tenure that his team lost when shooting better than 50 percent. During those prior 141 games, the Tar Heels never faced a duo that was as on their game as Parker and Hood were Saturday.

“We’re a completely different team offensively I think; it’s so difficult to guard both of us at the same time,” Hood said. “Then you have guys like Andre [Dawkins], 'Sheed [Sulaimon], Quinn [Cook] that can chip in like that, we can score in the 80s, 90s every game.”

Saturday by the numbers

March, 9, 2014

Saturday, the last full day of regular-season college hoops, was a grand affair. We had overtime and history-making matchups and buzzer-beaters and memorable Senior Nights.

And the NCAA tournament hasn’t even started.

It’s probably best to recap this day according to its most significant numbers:

3,000: Bill Walton won two national championships with UCLA. Lew Alcindor won three national titles for the Bruins. J.J. Redick shattered records at Duke during his time there. Ralph Sampson won three consecutive Naismith player of the year awards at Virginia. Sampson, Alcindor and Walton are three of the greatest athletes who ever played at the collegiate level. But none of the aforementioned four players scored 3,000 points in their respective careers. Now, it’s only fair to note that eligibility limits blocked freshmen from competing with the varsity squads then and the 3-point line wasn’t available, either.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
AP Photo/Nati HarnikCreighton's Doug McDermott because just the eighth player to score more than 3,000 career points.
None of that diminishes what Doug McDermott has accomplished, however, as the senior forward became just the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 career points. He reached that historic tally on a 3-pointer with 11:27 to play in Creighton’s 88-73 win over Providence on Saturday. He finished with 45 points total and 3,011 for his career to date.

4: Iowa State and Oklahoma State have had two battles this season. And after Saturday’s thriller, the Cyclones can claim both victories over the Pokes, but they needed four overtimes to get there. The first game, a 98-97 win for Iowa State, demanded triple overtime in Stillwater. Naz Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to drag Saturday’s game into the extra period in Ames, where Iowa State secured the 85-81 victory in the rematch.

41: Remember that stuff about Andrew Wiggins not being aggressive enough? Well, that’s so 2013. The freshman, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has been one of America’s best players in recent months. Proof? He dropped a career-high 41 points in Kansas’ 92-86 loss at West Virginia. At one point in the game, the Mountaineers had a 64-39 lead. But the Jayhawks, who were missing Joel Embiid, had a chance in the end. Yes, Kansas suffered a loss, which doesn’t help its argument for a top seed. But Wiggins produced the second-highest point total for a freshman in Big 12 history, per ESPN Stats & Information. That’s impressive.

18-0: Kentucky made things interesting for a moment. But the Wildcats couldn’t handle Florida’s full onslaught in the Gators’ 84-65 victory in Gainesville, a win that gave Florida a perfect 18-0 record in conference play. The Gators are the first team in SEC history to finish a year with 18 wins, per ESPN Stats & Information. The win also extended Florida’s winning streak to 23 games.

13: In the final home game of his career at Louisville, Russ “Russdiculous” Smith decided to let his teammates shine. He dished out a career-high 13 assists during an 81-48 Senior Night win over UConn.

1: With Cincinnati topping Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn, the American Athletic Conference had a problem. The Bearcats and Cardinals split the league title so the conference used a coin flip to finalize the top seed in next week’s AAC tourney. The winner? Cincinnati. "I requested that Coach Pitino and I play one game of liar's poker," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin joked to reporters after the game. “We used to do that all the time -- for fun, obviously.”

7 minutes, 32 seconds: That’s how long Arizona went without a field goal in the second half of a 64-57 road loss to Oregon, which snapped the Wildcats' five-game winning streak. That drought helped the Ducks seize a commanding lead via their 17-5 run.

73 seconds: That’s how much time remained in the game when Glenn Robinson III hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in Michigan's 84-80 win over Indiana.

33: Wins for undefeated Wichita State after Saturday’s 67-42 victory over Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney semifinals. The Shockers are just the third team in Division I history to achieve a 33-0 mark, per ESPN Stats & Information.

30: Jabari Parker's career high in a 93-81 win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor (most points by a Duke freshman in a matchup against North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information), which gave Duke 33 consecutive home wins -- a Division I-high that the Blue Devils currently share with Stephen F. Austin.

2007: Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the Ohio Valley tourney title game. The Colonels became the second team to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament this season. And they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2007.

Brennan's Wooden Watch: Week16

March, 6, 2014

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Tuesday night wasn't exactly Creighton's best showing. The Bluejays were outplayed for pretty much all 40 minutes at Georgetown, as the Hoyas' seniors -- especially Markel Starks -- fought desperately to improve their bubble lot. It was bad on both sides of the floor for Creighton. There were uncharacteristic offensive struggles: Grant Gibbs turning the ball over, Ethan Wragge going 1-for-6 from 3, Jahenns Manigat made a nonfactor through foul trouble, and so on. Worse, the Bluejays reverted to the liability-level defense that held them back in past years: Georgetown shot 65 percent from 2 and scored 1.23 points per trip. A lot of those looks were open.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsHow good has Doug McDermott been? He scored 22 points and had 12 boards against Georgetown and it was considered a bad game.
Two McDermott possessions cemented the off night. The first, in the first half, was a relatively open 3 that missed the rim by a wider distance than maybe any McDermott miss ever. The second, in the second half, was a baseline drive in which McDermott -- who was guarded well by Jabril Trawick for most of the game -- got the matchup he wanted against Nate Lubick, and pivoted past him to the baseline, and then just plum missed a wide-open layin. McDermott finished with 12 rebounds, but just 22 points on 23 shots, and he needed a late batch of last-ditch 3s to get there. It was a rough night for the Arbitrarily Capitalized Doug McDermott Awesomeness Tracker.

And you know what? It doesn't matter. McDermott has had this award sewn up for weeks. We're just going through the motions. When 22 points and 12 rebounds is considered a so-so game -- or, say, when those 22 points make you the first person since Lionel Simmons (1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90) to score 750 in three straight seasons -- your Wooden Award isn't going to be threatened by a late-season loss to a desperate bubble team.

In any case, here's the mother of all ACMcDAT sirens: Creighton's final home game of the season, the last of McDermott's career, comes Saturday against Providence. McDermott needs 34 points to reach 3,000 for his career.

On Tuesday, a reporter asked his father and coach, Greg McDermott, if he would let his son go for the record if he was close with enough time on the clock.

"If his mother has anything to say about it, probably,” McDermott said.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Like McDermott, Parker saw his team lose a road game in the final week of conference play, an 82-72 loss Wednesday at Wake Forest. The Blue Devils allowed 46 points in the second half at Wake, which likewise hints at some of the defensive issues they (like Creighton) have had at various points with this configuration. And like McDermott, Parker still had a pretty solid outing relative to just about any player in the country -- 19 points, 11 rebounds, 7-of-11 shooting. McDermott has been our obvious No. 1 for a while, and remains so this week. Parker is a similarly codified consensus No. 2. Also, he makes a mean dessert bar.

3. Russ Smith, Louisville: The Cardinals unleashed perhaps their best performance of the season Wednesday night at SMU, and got arguably the best of Smith's season, too. Russdiculous' line -- 26 points on 15 shots, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals -- was a perfect microcosm of what he's done all season, and what makes him so valuable: efficient scoring, timely distributing, unyielding perimeter defense.

4. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier was an early front-runner for the Wooden Award this season before a couple of bad early conference losses knocked him off our radar. UConn has had its blips, but Napier has been steadily great, averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game as the Huskies' anchor.

5. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Kilpatrick is having his worst mini-stretch of the season these past two weeks, including a 3-for-14 3-point performance in a close loss to Louisville and Saturday's 2-for-8, seven-turnover struggle in 37 minutes at UConn. But Kilpatrick did still have 28 points in that loss to Louisville -- 28 of his team's 57, no less -- and even when he's not scoring, he's still one of the best guard-defenders in the country.

[+] EnlargeNick Johnson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNick Johnson has been a force on both ends of the floor, and a big reason why Arizona's defense is among the nation's best.
6. Nick Johnson, Arizona: Our ability to track defensive metrics at a glance still lags way behind our ability to track offense, which is why it can be difficult to factor defense into national player of the year and All-American award discussions. But many of the players in this top 10 are here because they excel on both ends of the floor, and Johnson is a key example. Arizona's defense still allows the fewest points per trip of any team in the country, even without Brandon Ashley, and not all of that is due to Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon in the lane. Johnson is a fantastic gap defender in Sean Miller's pack-line hybrid defense, and a major factor in for the post-Ashley Wildcats.

7. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: Missouri Valley Conference voters awarded Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet with the league's POY trophy this week, and it's hard to argue with the reasoning. VanVleet has been great. So has guard Ron Baker. And Darius Carter. And Tekele Cotton. When you go 31-0, you tend to get a lot of really great individual performances. We'll still take Early, Wichita State's most-used player by a fair margin and its most important all-around offensive and defensive contributor.

8. Casey Prather, Florida: It's hard to believe Florida's last loss came all the way back on Dec. 2, but it's true. That game, at UConn, took place when the Gators had, like, six available players, back when Prather was still surprising us with his sudden scoring turn as a senior. Prather's usage has dropped as the Gators have gotten healthy (Kasey Hill) and eligible (Chris Walker), but his efficiency has held firm, and more than any other Florida player he's the reason why Billy Donovan's team managed to overcome so much personnel drama in the first place. The breadth of his season deserves honorifics.

9. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: We thought about dropping Thames from the list after a brutal 10-for-50 slump bracketed the Aztecs' losses to Wyoming and New Mexico. But Thames got back on track against Fresno State Saturday and kept it going Wednesday when his 19-point effort keyed a comeback win at UNLV. Like Prather (and not unlike Kilpatrick), his whole-season contributions to an SDSU team without another consistent offensive option are too great, in aggregate, to overlook.

10. Kyle Anderson, UCLA: "Slo-mo" has numbers that are kind of crazy. He's averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and from 3. That is exactly the kind of game the 6-foot-8 Anderson's unique skill set promised when he entered college a year ago. It took him a little bit, but he got there this season. He does it all.

Honorable mentions: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), T.J. Warren (NC State), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Billy Baron (Rhode Island Canisius)

Video: Jabari Parker's evolution

March, 5, 2014
Jabari Parker entered college as one of the best players in the country. But in the last 12 games, he's gotten even better. Check out the numbers behind Parker's improvement.

Video: Bilas' POY candidates

March, 5, 2014

In his weekly report, Jay Bilas counts down the top three candidates for the Wooden Award.

Brennan's Wooden Watch: Week 15

February, 27, 2014
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: What should have been a mundane home win turned dramatic for Creighton on Sunday. The Bluejays' defense gave up 71 points in 60 possessions to Seton Hall, and the game was tight late mostly because Creighton did something it very rarely does: miss free throws. The Bluejays would end up winning anyway, 72-71, "in kind of an ugly way," as McDermott described it, but the missed free throws inadvertently gave us another remarkable statistic to add to the Arbitrarily Capitalized Doug McDermott Awesomeness Tracker. From the Associated Press:
With 21 seconds left and Creighton leading 72-69, McDermott, an 89 percent foul shooter, missed two in a row during the same trip to the line for the first time since the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Sometimes, the best ACMcDAT stats come from the most unlikely places.

Anyway, McDermott finished Sunday's game with 29 points on 14 shots. In doing so, he edged his way past Alfredrick Hughes into the all-time college scoring top-10. The question now is not whether he will win the Wooden Award, or whether he will get to 3,000 points (he's on pace to do so during the Big East tournament), but whether McDermott can pump up his pace high enough to reach that magic milestone by Saturday, March 8 -- the final home game of his career. He needs to average 28 over the next three games; he's at 26 ppg currently. In the immortal words of Jurassic Park chief engineer Ray Arnold: Hold on to your butts.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke: The emergence of Marshall Plumlee as a capable offensive rebounder who follows those rebounds with quick kickouts to the perimeter -- like a miniature version of Brian Zoubek -- is huge for Duke generally and Parker specifically.

For most of the season, Parker was Duke's best defensive rebounder, with Amile Jefferson as a close second. But Parker's game didn't always lend itself to the offensive glass, and so Duke was, for most of the season, a mediocre offensive rebounding team. That could change with Plumlee around; let's get a larger sample than three games before we decide one way or the other. But Plumlee's presence should allow Duke to feel more comfortable with Parker playing inside and out, where he is devastatingly effective. And in general, Plumlee's ability to pick up minutes (and if, necessary, fouls) means less punishment and less foul trouble for the Blue Devils' overworked star player. Parker has used 31.8 percent of his team's offensive possessions this season, and been asked to guard up on the other end, too. The Blue Devils' new look should change that.

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsRuss Smith's last-second shot to beat Cincinnati on Saturday was the latest in a superb senior season for the Louisville guard.
3. Russ Smith, Louisville: Smith's game-winning shot at Cincinnati Saturday provides a tidy excuse for us to move him up the list. But we don't really need one, for reasons that should be apparent if you've been following along all season. Little has changed in Smith's output from November to now. He's still playing the best, smartest, most efficient offense of his life (51.2 percent from 2, 37.4 percent from 3, 30.6 percent assist rate) on huge usage (31.3 percent) and shot rates (30.0 percent) while maintaining his trademark brand of infuriatingly pesky perimeter and press defense. Last year, Smith was arguably the most valuable two-way player in the country, and he's better -- not to mention more important to his team -- in almost every way this season.

4. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Cincinnati's own two-way anchor rode a hot-shooting high into Saturday's huge American clash against Louisville ... when he promptly shot 3-of-14 from 3. Ouch, right? Yet Kilpatrick still finished with 28 of his team's 57 points, which is a handy counterintuitive reminder of just how important he is to the Bearcats' composition. Usually, he's much more efficient; usually, Cincinnati wins. But without him, Mick Cronin's team would be lost.

5. Nick Johnson, Arizona: For a minute there, it looked like Johnson would be the player most affected by Brandon Ashley's injury. Johnson started shooting the ball really poorly, in part because the Wildcats' floor-spacing took a hit without Ashley, and in part because ... well, because he couldn't make any shots. From Feb. 1 (the Cal loss) to Feb. 19 (a solid road win at Utah) Johnson shot 19-of-70 from the field and 2-of-20 (!) from 3. If you wrote Johnson's candidacy off, you had reason. But he and the Wildcats have since bounced back with two ultra-impressive blowout wins. Johnson had 20-6-5 on Saturday in an 88-61 win at Colorado. On Wednesday night, he had 22-7-5-1-1 with zero turnovers in an 87-59 home win over Cal. Both he and his team appear to be recovering quite nicely, thank you very much.

6. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Things started a little rocky for Napier and UConn at South Florida Wednesday night, and for a while it looked like the Huskies were going to take a damaging late-season loss to a team with just three American wins. But nope: Napier led an 18-0 second-half run and finished with 17 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals. That line is emblematic of his senior season: Efficient scoring, tidy passing, high-leverage shotmaking, and great defense.

[+] EnlargeWichita State Shockers
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesCleanthony Early is the focal point of a Wichita State team that made history on Tuesday night.
7. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: The Shockers' win at Bradley Tuesday night made them the first team ever to make it to 30-0 in the regular season, a feat that is both impressive in a vacuum and the subject of a revealing, instructive debate. Early's individual merits are a little like that: If Wichita State wasn't unbeaten, Early might not be a surefire All-American candidate (He still might not be). But like the Shockers in general, (who are, just a reminder, ranked in the top-15 in adjusted efficiency on both offense and defense, the only other team besides Florida to be so) he is very, very good no matter the competition. His bedrock production is a big reason why we can have this whole debate in the first place.

8. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle's offensive numbers -- 8 points, 3-of-8 shooting -- from Kentucky's big overtime win over LSU Saturday don't look like much. But Randle was easily UK's most important player. He brilliantly checked LSU center Johnny O'Bryant (who destroyed the Wildcats in Baton Rouge a month ago), and grabbed 15 rebounds, seven of them offensive, to go along with two big blocks. When UK's offense struggled, Randle was there to muscle home interior buckets. As UK has become more fluid, Randle's contributions on the glass on both ends of the floor make him John Calipari's most essential piece.

9. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Syracuse has not had its best stretch: After last Wednesday's home OT loss to Boston College -- a 62-points-in-63-possessions effort against (to that point) the worst major-conference defense in the country -- the Orange went to Duke Saturday. There was the C.J. Fair charge call and the Jim Boeheim blow-up, of course, but before the game-deciding play (and ejection) there was a lot more stagnant, struggling offensive play. On Monday, the Orange barely escaped with 57 points in 64 possessions at Maryland, the ACC's seventh-best defense. All of which says that Syracuse is having a tough time on the offensive end. What does that mean for its players' POY chances? For now, we're kicking Fair down to the honorable mentions and keeping Ennis, mostly because we think that's how voters would weigh the two if the award voting took place today. This could be temporary; let's see how Saturday at Virginia -- maybe the best defensive team in the country -- goes.

10. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Thames has had a brutal few weeks. Since Feb. 11's loss at Wyoming, the San Diego State star is 12-56 from the field. In the Aztecs' loss at New Mexico Saturday, he shot 3-of-15 and didn't get to the free throw line once. He has 19 combined points in his last three games. We're not inclined to punish players who mix in a week or two of struggles with an otherwise peerless resume, but this is above and beyond. Whether this is just a slump or something deeper will determine whether Thames stays on this list in the weeks to come. It will also determine how and when the Aztecs end their surprisingly successful campaign, which is slightly more important.

Honorable mentions: C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Casey Prather (Florida), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), T.J. Warren (NC State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Bryce Cotton (Providence).

Duke anticipating much-needed break

February, 25, 2014

DURHAM, N.C. -- Since Feb. 15, Duke has played more games than the Los Angeles Lakers have, and the Lakers don’t have to return to a campus for class.

The Blue Devils capped off a five-game, 11-day stretch with Tuesday’s 66-48 win over Virginia Tech. Now, even though only two games remain in the regular season, Duke needs a breather. It was evident when the Blue Devils took the court for warmups before playing the Hokies.

"When we came back in [the locker room], the coaches got us pretty good because we didn’t look like we were ready to go out there and fight," forward Rodney Hood said. "We’ve got to be prepared for that. In the ACC tournament, you can play three or four games in three or four days, so it’s no excuse to be tired. I think it’s taxing on us, but we have to be ready and get rejuvenated for the next week."

While the Blue Devils refresh physically, it will also finally give them time to reflect inward. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he’s spent so much time preparing for opponents, he could use some time to look at his team before making a postseason push.

"We’re always preparing for another team, so you don’t take as good a look at you," he said.

Duke will get a week off before facing Wake Forest on March 5. Senior guard Tyler Thornton said that he’d never experienced anything like the grueling stretch that included emotional games against Maryland, Syracuse and North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeDuke
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsRasheed Sulaimon and Duke looked sluggish offensively against Virginia Tech, shooting only 38 percent.
Sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon admitted fatigue was a bit of a factor, as Duke shot just 38 percent against the Hokies. They’ll get plenty of rest the next two days, with Krzyzewski saying the team will have only a short meeting on Wednesday and take Thursday off before returning to practice on Friday.

"After this stretch we have off, hopefully, we’ll have our legs back where we can start knocking down those shots like we were in the beginning of the year," Thornton said.

Krzyzewski said he’d take a second look into his rotation. Sulaimon has started the past four games in place of Quinn Cook at point guard, and it appears he’ll stay in the starting lineup.

Krzyzewski said the starters have developed a really good chemistry, and now his challenge will be how he handles bringing players off the bench.

Early in conference play, Krzyzewski’s solution was to use a lot of players and make hockey-style line changes. Heading into the postseason, that’s a thing of the past.

"We’re not going to just sub five guys," Krzyzewski said. "There’s got to be a rotation, especially after these next few games. You get to tournament play, Jabari [Parker] and Rodney [Hood] have to be out on the court. Like, what are you resting them for?"

While Krzyzewski managed the five-game stretch, he was forced to use center Marshall Plumlee more to help keep players fresh. The 7-foot sophomore has earned more time moving forward after several solid appearances, including five rebounds and three blocks against Syracuse.

It’s the veterans who haven’t performed as expected.

Andre Dawkins had scored double figures in four of five games before the stretch of games started. He hasn’t in the five games since, scoring a total of 19 points. Cook’s shooting has been inconsistent but his defense stellar.

"We need to get Andre shooting again," Krzyzewski said. "During this period, Andre has not been a big factor, and he should be a bigger factor. Quinn should be a bigger factor."

Duke needs a consistent third scorer to emerge from Sulaimon, Dawkins and Cook. The later into March the Blue Devils get, the more teams will key on stopping Parker and Hood and dare other players to carry the offensive load.

"We’re the main two ingredients in our offense," Parker said. "If we get that extra boost, that extra weapon out on the floor, like an Andre, like a Rasheed or even a Quinn, the sky is the limit, and [opponents] are forced to look at other people, too."

Offense hasn’t been an area the Blue Devils have struggled in this season, even when a third scorer has been lacking, but Cook said that rebounding and defense needs to be the focus in the last two regular-season games.

"Those two things win championships," Cook said. "The offense will take care of itself. If we keep playing defense and rebounding -- all five guys rebounding -- I feel that we could be special."

Video: Impact Performance nominees

February, 23, 2014

The Capital One Cup Impact Performances of the Week nominees include Doug McDermott, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker and Langston Galloway.

The worst part about the NBA-created, NCAA-accepted age rule is that the collegiate game has lost its legends.

Players are essentially here today, gone tomorrow. The turnover limits our ability to monitor and value the year-to-year progress of the game’s best young players. Sure, college basketball still produces many talented upperclassmen who walk the proven path of growth from their freshman to senior seasons.

But there’s certainly a group of freshmen who have changed this game since the NBA implemented its age limit for draftees in 2006. A decade ago, Jabari Parker would have been making millions in the NBA at his current age, not enjoying a season at Duke. It’s not his fault that the NBA forces players in his position to enroll in school for a few months.

Yes, it’s his "choice" to attend college. He could have gone overseas or entered the NBDL.

College, however, is the sensible choice for the gifted teenagers who should be millionaires. Soon, Parker will join his talented colleagues in the freshman class by entering the NBA draft. Another flock of elite 18- and 19-year-olds will replace them next season.

But Parker’s statistical breadth to date has been remarkable. It’s unfair that the NBA has put players, coaches and fans in this predicament. It’s also unwise to ignore how unique Parker has been in 2013-14.

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker, Rakeem Christmas, C.J. Fair
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesJabari Parker's time at Duke might be short, but he's had a huge impact on the program.
We might not see another underclassman with Parker’s offensive tools for years.

On Thursday, he couldn’t get a touch down the stretch of a loss against North Carolina, and the Blue Devils came undone. On Saturday, he got what he wanted against Syracuse. He began his performance with three 3-pointers on his opening shot attempts. There were also dunks, jump shots, layups and rebounds.

By the end of it all, Parker had 19 points and 10 rebounds. He carried his team in a win over a Syracuse squad that appeared to be a lock for the ACC title a week ago. Duke might not win that crown, but the Blue Devils are cobbling together an argument that they might be the best team in the league.

In the middle of their vortex is a young man who was surrounded by more hype than Andrew Wiggins before an injury interrupted his progress in high school.

Parker has handled the spotlight well.

He speaks about his teammates, team goals and his coach during interviews. He’s a selfless contributor, but he’s also smart enough to know when it’s time to dominate. That’s a difficult balance for high-level players to achieve. Freshmen rarely do because they don’t want the "ball hog" label.

Not Parker, though. He’s somewhat of a subtle superstar: capable of taking over but not in a manner that leaves his team behind.

Everyone knows that Parker is the best player on the floor whenever he’s on the floor. The only person standing between him and the Wooden Award is a senior named Doug McDermott, who will be the first player since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing in the 1980s to earn three consecutive Associated Press First Team All-America honors.

Twenty years from now, when we discuss this era of college basketball, we’ll talk about Parker. But we’ll mention McDermott when we converse about the greatest college basketball players of all time.

McDermott, Ewing, Shane Battier, J.J. Redick, Tim Duncan and others who had three- or four-year tenures at the collegiate level have an edge in terms of perception. They were great. And then, they were great the next season, too. And the season after that.

But it’s more difficult to judge the college careers of Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, Anthony Davis and other one-and-done stars. They were great but only for a moment.

If Parker plays two or three more seasons, he’ll shatter more records. He’ll be an icon. He’ll win a national title or two or three.

But that won’t happen.

He’ll be gone in a few months. We all know it. We knew it before he ever arrived.

Perhaps, Parker might be a new kind of legend, albeit one assessed according to production, not longevity. Maybe the word demands an adjustment given the constraints of the one-and-done generation.

Although he won’t stay much longer, his success should be appreciated.

This is not a normal season for a freshman or a veteran. Parker scores with flare and variety. He’s effective inside and outside. He’s the most dangerous offensive player in the game who is not named McDermott.

That’s worthy of applause.

He’s special. The NBA will realize as much soon.

Until then, however, he’ll be a collegiate star.

And 20 years from now, if we simply acknowledge this generation of freshmen for what they did when they were here, perhaps we’ll call Parker a legend, too.