College Basketball Nation: Maui Invitational 2011


LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Fans from both sides had warring chants that echoed throughout the crowd. Mike Krzyzewski was leaping up and down and spilling out on the floor with emotion. Bill Self twisted and recoiled with every turn of the game.

Duke players leapt into each other’s arms when it was over as the faces on their Kansas counterparts had the far-off look of a team that had just dropped an elimination game of some sort.

Was this game played in November or in March?

The Maui Invitational is often a great event. But it’s played so early in the season and is such a departure from the typical mood of big-time college basketball that usually it can’t help to have at least some exhibition feel to it.

And then a night like Wednesday happens, when two legacy programs played a high-intensity game that could have just as easily been taking place in a dome and not a tiny band-box gym in the middle of the ocean.

[+] EnlargeTyler Thornton
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireHe'd scored a total of four points in the previous two games, but Tyler Thornton delivered a pair of clutch 3s for Duke on Wednesday night.
In a way, it is a shame that the final score will be recorded as "Duke 68, Kansas 61," because it doesn’t imply the sort of struggle it was. Or how badly both sides clearly valued the game.

They hadn’t played against each other since 2003, so there was a gravity to the game. The key players in both jerseys had been a part of matchups like this before, but not in the roles they were going to play. All of this added to the tension, and it was tangible.

The game was ultimately decided on a wild and freakish shot, the unheralded Tyler Thornton heaving in a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock with 20 seconds left that made it a two-possession game. Krzyzewski later called it a “dream shot” as he sat next to Thornton, who was clearly still floating and not yet realizing that he might’ve made one of the shots of his life. While that was the obvious final highlight, it was only a bit of what took place.

During the second half, as the lead repeatedly changed hands, Krzyzewski sprang off the bench to fire his team up. Playing their seventh game in 12 days, fatigue was a factor for Duke. But it was so clear that their coach wanted them to fight through it because he understood the magnitude of the game.

“I want to win and I wanted them to see I haven’t retired yet,” he said. “It was important for me and important for them.”

The game was loaded with moments like that.

There was KU's Thomas Robinson showing off his all-around game in front of nearly a dozen NBA general managers, displaying a multi-faceted offensive game from jumpers to post moves to sheer power. He demanded the ball, playing with such a purpose that he often seemed to be moving at a different speed. His 16 points and 15 rebounds spoke to that. So did the fire with which he played and the long face that he left the floor with, totally spent.

“This is what we came to Kansas for, for games like this,” Robinson said. “I haven’t been around that long, but I do think it’ll go down as one of the top games [ever] in the tournament.”

But all Robinson’s play did was end up setting up a series of mighty one-on-one battles with Duke’s Mason Plumlee in the final minutes, with Plumlee’s longer arms and strength able to shut down Robinson’s effectiveness. With his 17 points and 12 rebounds, Plumlee ended up getting the edge in that matchup.

Tyshawn Taylor
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireAs their squads' big men jousted in the paint, guards Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas, left, and Seth Curry of Duke parried on the perimeter.
The Blue Devils’ Ryan Kelly, who had 17 points and was named the event’s MVP, had a game-long struggle with Kansas bigs Jeff Withey and Justin Wesley. There was Kansas guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson and their back-and-forth with Duke’s Seth Curry and Austin Rivers.

Taylor’s speed and aggressiveness stymied his counterparts as Curry and Rivers, who were a force during the tournament, were rendered mostly ineffective. Curry was just 2-of-8 and had trouble staying with Taylor on defense. Rivers got in foul trouble and wasn’t a factor in the second half, something not foreseen. Taylor finished with 17 points and Johnson had 10.

But Taylor’s excitement at times was too much and Duke’s pressure only increased as the game wore on and he ended up turning the ball over an ugly 11 times, 7 of them in the second half.

All of it together created something more than a game in Maui. It was instantly a candidate for one of the best regular season games of the year.

“I can’t imagine there being a better atmosphere than that game with two historic programs,” Self said. “I know our guys had a blast playing in it. I had a blast coaching in it.”
LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Coming into the season, the buzz around Duke centered on two sons of the NBA -- Seth Curry and Austin Rivers. And for the first six games of the season, Rivers and Curry led the team in scoring and set the tempo for the team.

But on Wednesday night, with the Maui Invitational title on the line against a feisty Kansas team, it was the trio of Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Tyler Thornton who stole the show.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kelly
AP Photo/Eugene TannerRyan Kelly took home Maui MVP honors after averaging 17 ppg.
Kelly led all Duke scorers with 17 points. Plumlee grabbed 12 boards and played stifling defense on Thomas Robinson. And Thornton hit two improbable 3s in the final few minutes of the game to give the Blue Devils the 68-61 victory over KU, giving the school its fifth Maui championship and maintaining its perfect record (15-0) in the event.

Kelly, who was named MVP of the tournament, kept the Blue Devils in the game in the first half with his perimeter shooting. In addition, he constantly pulled Robinson away from the basket and showed off his ability to create off the dribble. Whether he was hitting his shots or missing them, he spread the floor for the Blue Devils and kept Robinson out of the paint on the defensive end.

Kelly, who averaged just 6.6 points per game as a sophomore while shooting 32 percent from 3, looks like a completely different player as a junior. Last season, he was a bit of a shrinking wallflower that lacked confidence. This season, Kelly is on the hunt for his offense and is giving the Blue Devils a huge boost.

"I'm happy for Ryan," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I really think Ryan's going to be one of the best players when he finishes up. He's going to be a pro ... Ryan, I think was deserving for three straight days in what he did, but he wouldn't be MVP if Mason didn't play well tonight."

Indeed, Plumlee was also crucial for the Devils. His length and athleticism gave Robinson a number of problems in the second half. On the offensive end, he got deep position on the KU bigs on multiple possessions and worked his way to the line. Plumlee's 17 points were the second-highest output of his career and he was even more impressive from the line. Coming into the game, Plumlee was shooting 34 percent from the charity stripe this season. On Wednesday night, he was 7-for-9 from the line.

"I thought the key guy to the game was Mason," Krzyzewski said. "You know, Mason really played like such a man with physicality and size. When you're playing with a guy that's playing that hard and that demonstrative, it gives you confidence.

"It's tough to single out anybody else, but I'm telling you just effort-wise, I've done this a long time, that was the key to the game. I know he didn't make the all-tournament team or whatever, but he made my team. We don't win this championship without him."

But the star of the night was Thornton, the scrappy backup guard for the Blue Devils. In the first two games of the tournament, Thornton scored a total of 4 points. For the season, he had taken a total of nine shots in six games. But with Rivers struggling down the stretch, Coach K decided to bench his star freshman in favor of Thornton.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kelly, Tyler Thornton
AP Photo/Eugene TannerWhile Ryan Kelly, left, was tournament MVP, less-heralded players like Tyler Thornton keyed Duke's latest Maui title run.
And that's why he's Coach K.

Thornton played tenacious defense on Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor and hit his first bucket of the ball game, a huge 3, with 1:12 left to go in the game. The shot gave the Blue Devils a 63-61 lead. A minute later, with the shot clock winding down to zero and with just 20 seconds left in the game, Thornton hit a high-arching, double-clutch 3 at the shot-clock buzzer to extend the lead to 5. It was a dagger to the Jayhawks.

"Give him credit. I don't even know if he saw the rim when he shot it," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But it was a heck of a shot. It was a great shot. It was the ballgame."

"I saw the rim," Thornton said. "But it was a tough shot. When Seth kicked me the ball, I looked at the shot clock, it was 3 seconds, and I just tried to get up a good shot. Once it left my hands, I kind of thought it was going to be in and luckily it was."

Added Krzyzewski: "It's a dream shot. People say it was a lucky shot, but I will tell you I'm lucky to have him on my team to shoot that shot. Sometimes you're just on a bus with a guy who deserves to win, and for that moment we were on his bus. Thank goodness he knew how to drive it."

A few more notes from the Duke-KU game:

-- Just as improbable as Thornton hitting those shots was the fact that Thornton was in the game at all. Rivers picked up his fourth foul with 6:39 left in the game. Thornton replaced him and Coach K never subbed Rivers back in for him. It was a pretty bold move considering that Rivers, up until that moment, was the Blue Devils' leading scorer and later would be named to the all-tournament team. Rivers was struggling in the second half and took a couple of wild shots, but Krzyzewski said the benching wasn't a punishment.

"Just defensively we needed it. Austin had four, and he got banged up on his shoulder a little bit. It wasn't that we were ... he didn't do anything wrong. It was just that team out on the court was so good defensively that you didn't want to mess up with it. He's fine with it. He'll win a lot of games for us, and he has. That's why he made all-tournament team. He's played well here."

-- Had the Jayhawks won the game, Robinson would have garnered the MVP of the tournament. He had another excellent game with 16 points, 15 rebounds and a block. However, Robinson also showed that he can be bothered by long, athletic, physical players like Plumlee. Robinson shot just 6-for-15 from the field and especially struggled down the stretch against Plumlee's stiff defense.

-- There's a downside to tweeting during a live game. Early in the first half, I tweeted "Best I've seen Tyshawn Taylor in years. Been good all 3 games for KU." At the time, he was slicing through the defense, hitting big shots and collecting dimes. But in the second half, Taylor regressed badly and ended the game with a whopping 11 turnovers. "Tyshawn had an unbelievable first half," Self said. "So even though he got careless there late, it may have been because he was a little fatigued and lost focus. So I've got to do a better job with that."

A closer look: Duke 68, Kansas 61

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
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Overview: Wow. What a game. There were 16 lead changes during Duke’s 68-61 victory over Kansas in Wednesday's Maui Invitational championship game. That says it all. Tyler Thornton, known for his defensive prowess, knocked down a go-ahead 3 with 1:12 to play, then another one from long distance with 20 seconds remaining on the game clock to seal it. Those shots were just the fifth and sixth 3-pointers of his college career.

Turning point: With his team down 61-60, Thornton nailed a 3 from the corner with 1:12 to go. That shot came seconds after Kansas’ Elijah Johnson hit a go-ahead 3 from the top of the key. Thornton’s first 3 immediately swung the momentum of the frantic final minutes toward the Blue Devils. On the subsequent possession, Tyshawn Taylor committed his 11th turnover of the night and Thornton followed up with a no-way-that's-going-in 3 as the shot clock expired on the next possession.

Why Duke won: Forwards Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly roamed the interior on both ends of the floor. They were aggressive and effective. Both players recorded 17 points and were responsible for 3 blocks between them. The game was tight, so every play truly counted. With just under 5 minutes to play, Plumlee swatted Thomas Robinson’s layups on back-to-back plays. The duo’s aggression put Jeff Withey in foul trouble. He was on the bench with four fouls during that stretch. With Robinson as the only true inside threat, Kelly helped Plumlee force Robinson to take difficult shots. Thornton’s late 3s wouldn’t have mattered without Kelly and Plumlee’s consistent intensity throughout the contest.

Why Kansas lost: The Jayhawks had their chances. And that’s what’s going to bother them when they reflect on their loss to Duke. The Jayhawks rushed shots after defensive stops. On multiple occasions, Robinson took jump shots as if to respond to something Duke has done on the other end of the floor. Taylor’s 11 turnovers speak to the inconsistent offense. The Jayhawks missed a key opportunity to pull away from the Blue Devils because they didn’t have the patience to take better shots at crucial junctures. In the end, KU's impatience cost it the Maui Invitational title.

Star of the game: Plumlee recorded 17 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. Plus, he was matched up against Robinson, who had a double-double but missed out on crucial late scoring opportunities because of his defense.

What it means for Duke: The Blue Devils are leaving Maui as a more complete squad. Beginning with an exhibition trip to China and Dubai this summer, the Devils faced a series of question marks leading up to the 2011-12 season. Who would play point guard? Would they be tough enough inside? How will they compete without Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith? Well, they answered those questions by winning the Maui Invitational for the fifth time. Plumlee and Kelly held their own against more athletic and talented post players in Maui. Austin Rivers struggled in some areas, but he didn’t try to escape the moment. He moved on after his mistakes, a sign of his maturation process. And this crew has the balance that the 2009-10 squad used to win a national title.

What it means for Kansas: KU has to watch this film. It will be a frustrating experience, but the Jayhawks need to know that this was their game. They made crucial judgment errors against the Blue Devils. There were turnovers, bad shots and rushed scoring opportunities. Kansas played tough until the final minute. But it shouldn’t have come down to that. The Jayhawks had their chances to pull away; they just didn’t make the necessary plays. So Kansas will leave Maui with a more positive outlook about its potential, while kicking itself for some of its blunders Wednesday.

More observations: Withey, Kelly and Plumlee have all faced the “soft” tag during their careers. But they were tenacious and aggressive in this one and set the tones for their respective programs. … Plumlee employed a nice left hook that no defender will be able to block. Wonder why more big men don’t use it. … Taylor committed 11 turnovers because he tried to force so many plays. Duke swarmed the senior guard, particularly in transition. Instead of waiting for help or resetting, he forced passes and overdribbled. Seemed like Taylor had his own pace.

What’s next: Duke faces third-ranked Ohio State on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio, as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Kansas will host the Buckeyes on Dec. 10 after playing Florida Atlantic, South Florida and Long Beach State in its next three games.

A closer look: Michigan 79, UCLA 63

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
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Overview: The Wolverines were fluid from the field, shooting 61.7 percent in their 79-63 victory over UCLA in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational. After amassing a double-digit lead early, the Wolverines held off every UCLA spurt. Midway through the second half, they were coasting against a Bruins squad that is off to a disastrous 1-4 start. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 20 points and Zack Novak led all scorers with 22.

Turning point: Down 8-6 early in the game, the Wolverines dazed UCLA with a 13-0 run. The Bruins couldn’t afford an early deficit, but midway through the first half found themselves down by double-digits. This was a turning point on the scoreboard, but it was also a psychological transition. The Wolverines had already beaten the wounded Bruins mentally with their early rally. The Bruins' body language suggested that they’d already envisioned the outcome: another loss.

Why Michigan won: The Wolverines took advantage of UCLA’s size by running the floor and scoring in transition off 12 turnovers against a slower Bruins team. The Wolverines got an unexpected contribution from sophomore big man Jon Horford, who had a career-high 12 points (all in the first half). His success inside spread the floor far more than UCLA anticipated. The result: Michigan hit 7 of its 14 3-point attempts, many uncontested. The Wolverines kept the Bruins guessing on defense.

Why UCLA lost: The Bruins couldn’t close the gap against the Wolverines because they couldn’t find a consistent offensive attack against Michigan’s 1-3-1 and man-to-man schemes. UCLA’s starters were 2-for-13 from beyond the arc. Joshua Smith scored 12 points, but committed 6 turnovers and he couldn’t get up the floor when UCLA needed him. Michigan took a 7-point halftime lead, one that wasn’t insurmountable. But the Wolverines did a great job of doubling down whenever the Bruins got the ball inside. The Wolverines were comfortable putting pressure inside and letting UCLA’s shooters scrape the rims with errant shots (41.8 percent from the field overall). UCLA struggled to get buckets whenever the ball wasn’t in the paint. Bottom line.

Star of the game: Novak was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc on his way to 22 points, a career high. The Bruins simply didn’t have a way to guard him.

Jon Horford, Travis Wear
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSophomore forward Jon Horford scored a career-high 12 points for Michigan off the bench.
What it means for Michigan: The Wolverines learned a lot about themselves in Maui. There were major concerns about their point-guard situation entering the tournament. But freshman Trey Burke proved to be an impressive floor leader. The Wolverines also solidified their standing as Big Ten contenders. Right now, Hardaway is as good as any player in the league that’s not named Sullinger. Michigan spread teams out with its 3-point shooting. This team is often undersized, but outplayed Memphis and UCLA, two teams with talented big men inside. Michigan's biggest concern going forward will be avoiding overconfidence. Iowa State, Virginia and Oakland are ahead. They’re not Duke, Memphis or UCLA, but the Wolverines have to approach those games with the same intensity to avoid upsets.

What it means for UCLA: It just continues to get worse for Ben Howland's group. The Bruins can’t score. They’re very big inside but they’re slow, so teams can hit shots outside and score in transition against them. They settle for bad shots and just seem so dejected right now. Howland’s future with the program is going to the subject of a lot of barbershop banter. This is a Bruins squad that entered the year with a preseason national ranking. Now, they’re 1-4 and declining. They have off-court issues, too, with Reeves Nelson’s challenges. They’re off to a bad start. Utter disaster might be around the corner.

More observations: I think the Wolverines will be in trouble when they face more balanced teams. They had problems with Smith and Travis Wear inside. The fact that they’re double-teaming in the paint so often makes me wonder what they’ll do against a team that can actually hit shots from outside and hold its own in the paint. The Big Ten features a number of beefy forwards who could have their way with the Wolverines (Jared Sullinger, Trevor Mbakwe, Draymond Green). … How about Horford? How he scored his 12 points was just as important as the career-high total. He hit a turnaround jump shot. He had easy layups. He was active offensively. He could be an X-factor down the stretch … Wear showed off his range, hitting both of his 3-point attempts, but UCLA needed him to play inside more in the first half. … UCLA had opportunities to even the score, but the Bruins didn’t seem to have the mental juice to pull it off. Winning is contagious. So is losing. Bad news for the Bruins.

What’s next: Michigan has warranted legitimate Big Ten title contender talk, especially with Burke’s debut. Now the Wolverines have to get through the rest of their nonconference slate. Their first real test in Big Ten play won’t come until a Jan. 8 meeting with 11th-ranked Wisconsin. UCLA, meanwhile, must make the offensive adjustments necessary to score consistently. On defense, the Bruins have to find a way to guard the entire floor. And that’s probably going to mean less Smith, even though he can be an offensive asset. They can’t afford the defensive liability.

Georgetown returns home with confidence

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
10:32
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Shortly after Wednesday’s 91-88 overtime victory over Memphis at the Lahaina Civic Center, the Georgetown Hoyas went back to the Hyatt Regency, packed their bags and headed straight to the airport.

While other teams in the Maui Invitational extended their trip so they could spend Thanksgiving Day snorkling and sightseeing, the Hoyas were eager to get back to the mainland.

“We’re leaving tonight,” coach John Thompson III told ESPN.com by phone. “We’re going home.”

They should certainly expect a warm reception.

Even though the fifth-place medal isn’t as gaudy as the championship trophy it hoped to claim, Georgetown left Maui with plenty of reasons for encouragement following a strong showing in Monday’s 67-63 loss to No. 14 Kansas and a banner effort in Wednesday’s victory over the eighth-ranked Tigers.

“There’s reason for excitement when you come away with a win against a team of that caliber,” Thompson III said. “And the Kansas game was winnable, too. This team believes in each other and they believe in what we’re doing. Am I pleased with where we are? No, I’m not pleased, because this team has so much room for growth. But I’m not displeased, either.”

Nor should he be.

Georgetown lost its top two scorers (Austin Freeman and Chris Wright) from a squad that won 21 games last season. Also gone is reliable forward Julian Vaughn. That’s why no one really flinched when Big East coaches picked the Hoyas to finish 10th in the league standings this season. Ten of the 13 players on Georgetown’s roster are either freshmen or sophomores.

But it certainly didn’t show against Memphis on Wednesday.

The Hoyas played an intense brand of defense, committed just nine turnovers and showed incredible patience on offense. Unlike its opponent, Georgetown didn’t force shots or make poor decisions down the stretch. Instead, the Hoyas kept their poise, played with structure and came up big when it mattered most.

“Winning a game [in this fashion] was good for us because we’re so young,” Thompson III said. “For long stretches there I had three freshmen on the court at the same time. We’ve got to learn how to win and how to win together. In the Kansas game, we made mistakes down the stretch that we could’ve controlled. We could’ve won that game.

“Tonight we didn’t make mistakes. We controlled what we could. Will it help? Time will tell.”

Freshman Otto Porter, whom the Hoyas signed late, continues to be a huge spark. The versatile forward played 40 minutes Wednesday and contributed 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists and 2 blocks.

“He is the most prepared freshman that I’ve coached,” Thompson III said. “Mentally, physically, emotionally ... just being prepared to compete at this level in a way that most freshmen are not. A lot of freshmen don’t understand how to compete at this level. But he walked in the door knowing how to compete.”

Forward Hollis Thompson (12 points, 7 rebounds) certainly caught the attention of the slew of NBA scouts seated courtside with his inside-out game. But the two most impressive players Wednesday were center Henry Sims and shooting guard Jason Clark, both of whom are seniors.

Sims scored a career-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He also had 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Sims has never averaged more than 3.6 points in a single season, but now that some of Georgetown’s key pieces are gone, the 6-foot-10, 245-pounder is stepping up.

“He had a terrific game,” Thompson III said. “He’s 6-10 and fairly athletic. He’s realizing that if he exerts the effort and the energy, good things will happen.”

Clark, who has been one of Georgetown’s top players the last two years, had a game-high 26 points. His 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in overtime gave the Hoyas an 88-86 lead and a momentum they would never relinquish.

In Tuesday’s win over Chaminade, Clark scored 28 points in 24 minutes. He had 15 points in Monday’s loss to Kansas. He made a remarkable 12 of 20 3-point attempts in Maui.

“The good thing about Jason is that he doesn’t take shots he shouldn’t take,” Thompson III said. “He knows where his shots are coming from. He doesn’t force anything. He lets it come to him. He takes the right shots. He’ll have [the best year of his career] if he doesn’t push or press anything.”

Actually, JT3 feels that way about his entire team. If the Hoyas continue to improve, there’s no reason they can’t be one of the top teams in the Big East -- or at least better than 10th.

“We lost a lot with Chris, Austin and Julian,” Thompson III said. “They were at the forefront of everything we did the last few years. But we have people that are willing to step up. Our team is much different now. As long as we believe in each other, we’ll be OK.

“There isn’t a false bravado. They know we have to get better. They know we’re not close to being where we should. This win isn’t going to change that.”

A closer look: G'town 91, Memphis 88 (OT)

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
8:43
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Georgetown celebratesAP Photo/Eugene TannerGeorgetown's Mikael Hopkins (3) and Tyler Adams (0) celebrate the overtime victory over Memphis.
Overview: One day after a double-overtime victory against Tennessee, the eighth-ranked Memphis Tigers were forced into an extra period once again in Wednesday’s fifth-place game against Georgetown. This time the results weren’t as favorable for Josh Pastner’s squad, which fell 91-88 to the Hoyas.

While Memphis, which was thumped by Michigan in Monday’s opener, leaves Hawaii as the Maui Invitational’s biggest disappointment, Georgetown was arguably the event’s most pleasant surprise. The Hoyas' roster features 10 freshmen and sophomores, but they hardly played to their age Wednesday. Georgetown kept its poise while Memphis crumbled under pressure. Jason Clark scored 26 points and Henry Sims added 24 for the Hoyas, who improved to 4-1. Will Barton had 22 points to lead the Tigers.

Turning point: With his team trailing 86-85 in overtime, Clark buried a 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining that gave Georgetown an 88-86 lead and momentum it would never relinquish. Clark made four of his seven 3-point attempts and was 9-of-17 from the field overall. Memphis had one last shot trailing 91-88, but Antonio Barton’s guarded 3 at the buzzer barely nicked the rim.

Why Georgetown won: The Hoyas' size and overall length was certainly a factor, as Memphis had trouble establishing any sort of presence in the paint. Georgetown also pestered the Tigers into 17 turnovers. But the biggest difference was the Hoyas’ patience on offense and overall shot selection late in the game. Both teams made about 49 percent of their field-goal attempts, but Georgetown was more disciplined during crunch time than the Tigers, who forced things and pressed when it mattered most.

Why Memphis lost: Early on, Pastner’s squad was terrible defensively. There’s no way such a young Georgetown squad should have 47 points at intermission. The other problem was that Memphis made a ton of bone-headed mistakes down the stretch that likely cost it the game. One of the most crucial errors came in final seconds of regulation with Memphis leading 78-76. Instead of letting some time run off the clock, point guard Joe Jackson penetrated into traffic just a few seconds into the shot clock and tried to force a pass to Wesley Witherspoon. Georgetown came up with an easy steal with 35 seconds remaining, and the Hoyas capitalized when freshman Greg Whittington got an easy put-back off Sims’ missed jumper to force a 78-78 tie with 18 seconds left.

More sloppiness ensued moments later, when Memphis couldn’t come up with anything close to a quality shot as time expired. Instead, Adonis Thomas was forced to throw up a 27-foot 3-pointer that didn’t even hit the rim. Also, despite calling a timeout, Memphis failed to get a good look on its final shot in overtime. With none of his teammates open, Antonio Barton had no other choice but to pump fake and shoot an off-balance 3-pointer that would’ve tied the game. The attempt was way off.

Other observations: The Hoyas signed a true gem out of Missouri in freshman Otto Porter, who had 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists and 2 blocks off the bench Wednesday. ... Speaking of freshmen, Memphis’ Thomas (5 points, 1 rebound, 4 turnovers) isn’t progressing nearly as quickly, despite being more highly touted ... Memphis forward Stan Simpson, a juco transfer, came off the bench and hit some huge free throws late in Wednesday’s game. ... The slew of NBA scouts that made the trip to Maui this week surely developed a positive opinion of Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson, whose versatility was on full display Wednesday. ... Take away Nate Lubick’s 0-for-6 performance from the field, and Georgetown went 34-of-64 Wednesday. Pretty impressive ... I’ve been saying this for two years, but Hoyas guard Clark is one of the country’s most underrated players. ... Same goes for John Thompson III in the coaching category.

What it means: There’s no way Georgetown is the 10th-best team in the Big East. The Hoyas are big, versatile, athletic and well-coached. Their biggest flaws are a lack of an experienced, high-level point guard and their overall youth. But anyone who witnessed Georgetown’s games against Kansas and Memphis could see that their younger players are seasoned beyond their years. At this point Georgetown looks like a fringe top-25 team that could break into the rankings with a few more quality wins.

No one doubts Memphis’ talent, and the Tigers have certainly come a long way from last year in terms of maturity. Still, Pastner’s team doesn’t look crisp on offense and the intensity often seems to be lacking on the defensive end. But the bottom line Wednesday was that Memphis just didn’t play smart basketball when it mattered the most.

Up next: Georgetown hosts IUPUI on Monday before traveling to Tuscaloosa for a Dec. 1 tilt with Alabama. We’ll know a lot more about the Hoyas after that game, as the Crimson Tide will provide Georgetown’s toughest test of the season to date. As for Memphis, it hosts Jackson State (Monday) and Austin Peay (Saturday) next week before traveling to Miami for a tough road game Dec. 6.

Closer Look: Tennessee 86, Chaminade 60

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
4:56
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Overview: One day after scoring 32 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in a double-overtime loss to Memphis, Jeronne Maymon played just two minutes in Wednesday’s Maui Invitational seventh-place game against Chaminade. Not that it mattered. Tennessee didn’t need him in its 86-60 victory. Jordan McRae had 25 points and five steals and Trae Golden added seven assists to ensure the Volunteers left Maui with a win.

Turning point: This one was over before I finished my ham sandwich. Tennessee opened the game on a 14-2 run -- which included a pair of 3s by McRae -- and never looked back. It was encouraging to see the Vols so juiced for the game following Tuesday’s heartbreaker to rival Memphis.

Why Tennessee won: Besides simply being bigger, better and more athletic, UT was almost unstoppable from 3-point range. The Vols scored 45 points from beyond the arc, where they connected on 15 of 27 attempts. This just two days after not connecting on any against Duke. The most prolific snipers were McRae and Golden, who combined to make nine of their 11 3s. At one point, ESPN cameras listened in as an exasperated Chaminade coach Eric Bovaird addressed his team in the huddle. “I can’t believe they’re shooting that well,” he said. “Those 3s ... they’re making, like, 80 percent of them.”

Why Chaminade lost: The Silverswords couldn’t find the spark they had in the first half of Monday’s loss to UCLA, when they trailed by just two points. Chaminade shot just 34.9 percent from the field and only made 26.3 percent of its 3s. Matt Cousins (17 points) and Bennie Murray (13) led four Silverswords in double figures.

Star of the game: The easy choice is McRae. The 6-foot-5 sophomore made nine of his 11 shots, including a 5-of-7 performance from 3-point range, and was also a pest on the defensive end with five steals. McRae’s performance was huge considering the absence of Maymon, who missed most of the game because of a bruised calf. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said he expects Maymon to be back on the court for Monday’s game at Oakland.

More observations: Martin may not be facing as big of a rebuilding job as some people initially believed. Tennessee turned in a pair of strong performances in losses to Duke and Memphis before dominating Wednesday’s game against Chaminade. This team has some nice pieces with McRae, Golden, Maymon and Cameron Tatum. Don’t be surprised if the Vols are on the NCAA tournament bubble in March. “They’re competitive guys,” Martin said. “They have a true passion for each other. They want to be successful.”

What’s next: The Vols play at Oakland on Monday before hosting Big East stalwart Pittsburgh on Dec. 3. Interestingly enough, Tennessee whipped Pitt on the road last season, yet lost to Oakland at home.
It's safe to say the Maui Invitational has lived up to expectations. We've had quality games, better-than-expected performances from better-than-expected teams (take a bow, Tennessee and Georgetown), breakout stars (take another bow, Jeronne Maymon) and now this: The finale everyone wanted -- including Bill Self -- came to fruition.

“We came here to play Duke, to be real candid with you,” Self said Tuesday night. Coaches don't often admit to looking ahead to opponents, but you can't fault him for his honesty. He's right. It's a big one. So let's break it down, shall we?

(For previews of Maui's other Wednesday games, see here.)

Kansas vs. Duke, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN3:

What Duke does well: The Blue Devils are rather rapidly developing into one of the best floor-spacing and outside-shooting teams in the country. At this point -- at least as it regards to this specific style -- they probably are the best. Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, and even forward Ryan Kelly, are all lights-out shooters from the perimeter. Freshman guard Austin Rivers can make his fair share of 3-pointers too, but at his best (and he is slowly beginning to showcase his best) he serves a much more important purpose : as the entry point to the rest of Duke's offense. Rivers is always a threat to score, so when he comes off screens (and Duke runs a lot of ball screens) and enters the pressure point at the top of the key, defenses have to help. This draws defenders away from Curry, Dawkins, Kelly and even big men Mason and Miles Plumlee.

Rivers' decision-making has taken its fair share of criticism in the first few games of his collegiate career, and deservedly so. It's important to remember they're just the first few games of his collegiate career. He was much better against Michigan on Tuesday night, and he should only improve as the season moves forward. When he does, look out. In the meantime, the Blue Devils' offense is still rolling, and their perimeter play is the primary reason why.

Where Duke struggles: On the offensive glass. The only problem with Duke's attack as currently composed is that the Blue Devils don't retrieve many of their own misses. When Duke shoots well -- and it usually shoots well -- that's no big deal. But if it shoots poorly, a lack of offensive boards and second-chance opportunities presents a recipe for stagnation. If Kansas can contain Rivers and the sharp little set plays the Devils run to free shooters, it should be able to prevent Duke from getting second looks at the rim.

What Kansas does well: Ball movement. This is nothing new for Self's teams, but it is a little surprising how good the Jayhawks are in this regard already. Their wins over Georgetown and UCLA in Maui have occasionally been offensive clinics, as Self's well-drilled lads pick and poke holes in opposing defenses, frequently finding forward Thomas Robinson for alley-oop dunks. (If Robinson is anywhere near the low block, and there isn't a defender between him and the rim -- and frankly, you're probably better off with two -- then watch your head. You're about to get dunked on. Then it goes on YouTube, and that just ruins your day. Fair warning.)

Robinson is a super talent, but he's still learning how to play with the ball in the block, so he frequently needs good passing to set him up. That's where Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson come in. Both players are good passers, both players are more than comfortable in Self's system, and both players add a slightly different dimension from last season's crop of very efficient, but less dynamic, players. They can also get to the rim. If KU can keep pressure on Duke's backcourt, not only through that side-to-side motion passing but through incisive penetration, the Jayhawks can score against this defense.

Where Kansas struggles: The biggest issue is depth. After Taylor and Johnson, the Jayhawks don't have much to bolster the back line; guard Conner Teahan is a 42 percent 3-point shooter, but he could find himself overmatched against Duke's coterie of guards. If Rivers' penetration gives Taylor and Johnson trouble, and either picks up an extra early foul or two, Self could find himself reaching into a bench he doesn't quite seem to have.

And now for the disclaimer: These are just a few of the issues that will come into play Wednesday night. Remember, it's still early. Players are still developing; teams are still congealing. By this time tomorrow -- when you're neck deep in turkey and mashed potatoes and mmm, Thanksgiving -- this knowledge may seem like old news.

In the end, this game is going to be less definitive than speculative. There's still five months of hoops ahead. We'll know more in a few weeks, and then more in February, and so on and so forth.

But whether or not you want to trust the result, come on: It's Duke and Kansas in Maui. Pre-Thanksgiving hoops feasts don't come much better than this.
Well, this is it: The final day of the 2011 Maui Invitational. It's sad, I know, but we'll get through it together. The good news, of course, is there are still some really good games at the Lahaina Civic Center, including the tournament's dream final between Kansas and Duke.

We'll get to that one in a separate post -- it deserves that much. In the meantime, though, here's a glance at the three consolation affairs that will precede it. To the rundown:

Michigan vs. UCLA, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN3): If UCLA was any other program -- and not, you know, UCLA -- Bruins fans could come out of Tuesday night feeling downright encouraged. Ben Howland's team has had much-publicized issues off the court, issues eclipsed only by his team's play on it. But UCLA looked, dare I say it, inspired in the second half against Kansas.

The Bruins appeared to be well on their way to a rout at the hands of KU, but they fought back in the second half, cutting the Jayhawks' lead from 17 to five with eight minutes remaining. UCLA couldn't keep the pace -- they scored all of four points in those final eight minutes -- but the simple fact that they didn't go away should be worth at least some measure of positivity.

The last chance for the Bruins to get out of Maui with a truly positive result comes Wednesday against Michigan. It promises to be an uphill battle. The Wolverines, like Georgetown and Tennessee (and Duke and Kansas, for that matter), appear to be weeks ahead in the vital areas of cohesion, intelligence and overall competency. UCLA still has miles to go in this department. As Memphis learned Monday, beating Michigan requires offensive precision, particularly from the guards; you have to move the ball quickly and accurately -- and you have to shoot it well -- to score against Beilein's coterie of zones.

Memphis vs. Georgetown, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN3): On Tuesday, Memphis coach Josh Pastner asserted how happy he was that his team was being tested early (and that his team's nonconference schedule would receive the commensurate boost in profile). That trend continues Wednesday. Like Tennessee, Georgetown has exceeded expectations in Maui, playing Kansas to a quality four-point loss before dropping Chaminade with ease in the consolation bracket. By the time the NCAA selection committee starts comparing resumés in March, wins over Georgetown and Tennessee could be plenty handy.

Of course, Memphis has to beat the Hoyas first, and that will hardly be easy. Georgetown appears to be ahead of schedule at this point in the season, and presents some specific challenges to this Tigers team. Memphis is at its best against man-to-man defense, when it can use its collective quickness and sprawling talent to get easy looks for Will Barton et al inside of 15 feet. But against Michigan coach John Beilein's tricky amorphous zones, the Tigers struggled. They settled for too many long-distance shots (20 3-point field goal attempts) and made too few (four). Too often, Michigan forced Memphis to play "east and west," as Pastner put it; like Tampa Bay Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount, this Memphis team is at its best when it attacks in a northerly direction.

But offense could be the least of Memphis' worries. On defense, it'll face a surprisingly precise Georgetown attack, a team that already understands the nuances of coach John Thompson III's Princeton offense and uses it to generate easy looks for sharpshooting guard Jason Clark and versatile forward Hollis Thompson. Memphis will have much to contend with here. Adding another early-season quality win won't come easy. But it should be fascinating to watch.

Tennessee vs. Chaminade, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU/ESPN3): It's a bit of a shame Tennessee won't come away from Maui with a quality win, because the Volunteers played very well -- much better than anyone expected coming in -- in losses to Duke and Memphis. Alas, they'll have to settle for what should be a comparatively relaxing and straightforward victory over Chaminade. The Silverswords are scrappy, and they kept a disorganized UCLA team in check for a half, but Georgetown had no issues dispatching them with ease Tuesday.

If there's any particular reason to get excited for this one, it lies in the possibilities for Jeronne Maymon's final line. The UT forward tore Memphis to the tune of 32 points and 20 rebounds -- the first 30-point, 20-rebound game by a power-six player since Blake Griffin in 2009 -- and that was against a team with loads of athleticism and length. Provided Maymon isn't exhausted from the double-OT thriller, his line could again reach Griffinian levels.

Ford in Maui: Elijah Johnson's breakout

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
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LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Thomas Robinson might be KU's emotional leader on the floor, but Tuesday night, Kansas guard Elijah Johnson proved Robinson won't have to do it alone every night. Johnson scored 23 points in a 72-56 win over UCLA in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational.

Johnson did just about everything well Tuesday at the Lahaina Civic Center. He was sinking treys, pushing the ball up the floor and getting into the lane at will against UCLA's defense. NBA scouts and KU fans have been waiting for this moment for two years. Johnson came in as a high-flying, five-star, blue-chip recruit. NBA scouts saw a 6-foot-4 athletic guard who had the strength and quickness to get to the basket, and whispered he could be a first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeKansas' Elijah Johnson
Brian Spurlock/US PRESSWIREKansas' Elijah Johnson scored 23 points against UCLA.
But it's been mostly a rocky road for Johnson in Lawrence. He played just 6.6 minutes per game for the Jayhawks as a freshman, and his progress was thwarted a bit the next season when Josh Selby decided to play for Kansas. Between Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Selby, Johnson got just 13.6 minutes per game as a sophomore.

With Reed and Morningstar graduated and Selby off to the NBA, Johnson finally got his chance. But not before nearly blowing it at the start of the season. Johnson -- along with KU's other starting guard, Tyshawn Taylor -- was suspended by coach Bill Self for the team's exhibition games for violating team rules.

But he was in the starting lineup on opening night and is slowly finding his groove. Johnson struggled mightily early on against Kentucky but is coming off excellent games here in Maui against Georgetown and UCLA. Johnson finally is feeling comfortable being back in the limelight.

"I felt like I needed some reps and a lot of minutes on the floor," he said after the game. "I never played 30 minutes like this and had to stay in the game regardless of what's going on. I felt like I'm just getting in the comfort zone and figuring it out. Finding out what Coach wants us to do and trying to keep the team in control and staying on the court when everyone has to come off. It's given me more confidence. It's making me more comfortable on the floor. Once I get more comfortable, my game just comes more naturally."

A few more observations from Kansas-UCLA:

  • If Johnson keeps feeling this comfortable, he might be the other first-round pick from the Jayhawks this season. Thomas Robinson (15 points, 10 rebounds versus UCLA) is widely regarded by NBA scouts as a lottery pick. Johnson, especially in a down year for point guards, really could rise with performances such as the one he had Tuesday. "He's got all the physical tools to be a NBA point guard," one NBA GM said. "He's strong, fast, athletic and he can shoot. I felt like Kansas played so much better when he started to get comfortable. If he plays like this all year, he's a first-round pick. No question."
  • UCLA's Josh Smith gave Kansas fits last season in Lawrence. This season, he was a complete nonfactor. He played just 13 minutes because of foul trouble, scored one point and grabbed one rebound. Many NBA scouts came into the season believing Smith could be a lottery pick. After two lackluster performances in Maui, they are souring quickly. Smith clearly is way heavier than his listed weight of 305 pounds. Coach Ben Howland said the doubling and foul trouble gave Smith fits Tuesday night. But when asked whether conditioning was also an issue, his reply was pretty curt: "It's evident." Look, Smith has talent. He has great hands, moves well for a big man and can knock people around in the paint. But his lack of conditioning and focus are pretty alarming. UCLA played better when he wasn't in the game, and until he gets into shape and starts playing hard, he can forget about the NBA.
  • KU's win Tuesday sets up a dream matchup of Kansas-Duke on Wednesday night. Self told reporters after the game that the Jayhawks came to Maui to play Duke. Well, they've got their wish. And with a ton of rabid Duke and Kansas fans packed into this tiny gym, the place is going to be rocking. "I think it could be as good an atmosphere as there's ever been here," Self said. "It could be better than NCAA tournament atmosphere because you can feel the crowd. I think it could be second to none in the history of the tournament." Taylor agreed: "When you come to Kansas, you sign up for this."

  • Duke should be the favorite to win this thing. The Blue Devils have more talent and considerably more depth. NBA scouts will be focusing on the Mason Plumlee-Thomas Robinson matchup, but the key to the game probably will be how well Taylor and Johnson fare against Duke's Seth Curry, Austin Rivers and Andre Dawkins. Should be a great game.

A closer look: Kansas 72, UCLA 56

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
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Overview: This game was more about mentality than final score. Kansas won 72-56, but you had a feeling Kansas was always going to win.

What was interesting was how the two teams played. UCLA looked like it preferred the Maui beaches to the Lahaina court early, allowing the Jayhawks to walk over it in the first half. Yet the Bruins rallied in the second.

Meanwhile, KU looked like it was coasting in the first before falling apart midway through the second. Then, just when it got scary, the Jayhawks found their mojo again. That Kansas got the victory in this Maui Invitational semifinal will serve a young Jayhawks team well going forward. What the rally and the finding of a pulse means for the Bruins remains to be seen.

Turning point: Technically it was the opening tip, from which Kansas jumped to a 14-2 lead and stormed to a 17-point advantage by the break. UCLA’s second-half comeback, though, put the pressure on the Jayhawks, and it was Elijah Johnson who eased it. The junior’s jumper at the top of the key turned a near-debacle into a breathable seven-point lead for Kansas with just less than five minutes to go. That bucket stoked a 15-4 KU run to end the game.

Why Kansas won: Much of the postgame talk will be about how UCLA summoned some sort of life in the second half, but KU's ability to stave off the rally was equally impressive. This is a Jayhawks team still in progress, and when the Bruins made it scary, Kansas didn’t panic. KU remained composed, relying on the hot hand of Johnson to win it. Mix in a defensive first half that made it nearly impossible for UCLA to score, and you’ve got a recipe for a victory.

Why UCLA lost: Numbers don’t lie. The Bruins managed just six made field goals yet committed 11 turnovers in the first half, an offensive inefficiency leading to a 43-26 deficit that was impossible to overcome. You had to appreciate the pluck and energy on both ends of the floor for UCLA that forced a 21-6 run to make it a five-point game with 8:02 to play, but the Bruins simply aren’t good enough to crawl back from such a huge hole. Not many teams are.

Star of the game: Johnson. The junior was good in the first half and good in the second, a book-ended reliable night that Kansas needed. He scored 23 points, his wise shot selection evidenced in his 8-of-13 shooting from the floor and 4-of-8 from the arc.

What it means: Valuable lesson here for Kansas. The Jayhawks played a terrific first half, stepping on the gas pedal to cruise to that huge lead. But when the Jayhawks eased off, UCLA made things slightly dicey. Not so dicey as to threaten a complete meltdown, but dicey enough that KU ought to take ye olde 40-minute adage to heart after this game.

Maybe this game, albeit a loss, serves as the much-needed alarm clock for UCLA. After looking entirely disinterested in the first half, the Bruins rebounded to make things interesting in the second. UCLA right now is more about attitude than talent, and if the Bruins can get on the same page, they can salvage this season.

More observations: Reeves Nelson needs to buy into UCLA if the Bruins are going to regroup. Ben Howland doesn’t need the headaches but he needs the player. Nelson, who came off the bench again after missing the team’s flight to Hawaii, scored 12 points and added five rebounds, but it was the little things he brought to the Bruins -- stepping in and taking charges and igniting a team and a bench that previously looked like they were sleepwalking. ... Kansas forward Thomas Robinson continues to play like a future pro. He scored 15, showing off some strong post moves and adding 10 critical rebounds. ... UCLA's Tyler Lamb, a 20 percent 3-point shooter last season, drained three of four from the arc. If he can continue to do that, the Bruins might find at least part of the solution to their offensive woes.

What’s next: Kansas advances for a name-brand, blue-blood Maui Invitational final against Duke. The Jayhawks haven’t won this title since 1996, while Duke has never lost in a Maui championship game. The Blue Devils are 4-for-4.

As for UCLA, the next game isn’t what matters. It’s who the Bruins want to be -- are they the team that looked disinterested and flat in the first half or the one that showed a breath of life in the second? While it might sound cataclysmic to say this team is at a crossroads before the end of November, it’s the hard truth. The players and Howland all need to look hard in the mirror and decide how they want this season to go.
LAHAINA, Hawaii -- No team has traveled more miles or played more games together since the summer than Duke. The season might still be in its infancy, but that head start is beginning to show up already.

The Blue Devils won another quality game Tuesday in Maui, jumping out to a big early lead on old rival Michigan with an excellent game plan designed to limit Wolverines star Tim Hardaway Jr. The teams then traded punches on the way to an 82-75 Duke win. The Blue Devils will be playing in the tournament’s title game for the fifth time in the past 20 years Wednesday night.

It was Duke’s sixth game in the past 11 days, an NBA-like schedule with NBA-like travel from Durham to New York to the South Pacific. Combine that with a summer trip to China and Dubai for exhibition games, and the Blue Devils are quite the jet-setters. They also are, it is looking like, quite the team-builders.

[+] EnlargeDuke's Austin Rivers
Brian Spurlock/US PRESSWIREBecause of the NBA lockout, Duke's Austin Rivers was able to shine with his father, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, in attendance.
This is most evident in the team’s bloodline backcourt of Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, who look like brothers and are starting to take on the look of old friends. There’s no questioning the talent there, but it wasn’t a lock that it was going to fit together. Neither would be defined as a true point guard, and both really need to control the ball to be effective. They also are probably Mike Krzyzewski’s two most talented players, and he was determined to play them together and figure out a way to make it work.

Curry is 21 years old and already in his fourth season of college basketball. He’s waited two years for his turn to run the team. He transferred from Liberty in 2009 after his freshman year and sat out the 2009-10 season. Last season, he got some minutes but played behind Kyrie Irving -- when he wasn’t hurt -- and Nolan Smith. Like his father, Dell, and his brother, Stephen, Curry is a polished shooter with range and the sort of effortless release that has to include some genetic assistance.

Now it's time to share with Rivers, a big-time recruit who plays with a steady swagger and at times like a freshman not used to playing with stars. Rivers’ talent is unmistakable. His interest in scoring and attacking is sometimes breathtaking and sometimes frustrating, as his eyes lock on the rim no matter the impediments before him. His shooting is unrefined, but that does not change his mindset -- he will fire away at will from any distance.

In short, it was not a guaranteed marriage. But with the advantage of some extra time and some willingness, it is working and it is impressive. Long way to go before March, but Rivers and Curry are blending their games and starting to look like they’re going to be a load for any defense to handle. They certainly were too much for Michigan’s zone, which simply couldn’t account for both of them all the time.

“They just need time together; practice only does so much,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s one of the reasons we went to China and Dubai, to give these guys a chance to get to know each other.”

On Tuesday, Curry always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, moving without the ball to set up for catch-and-shoot shots and getting the Blue Devils into their offense effectively. He hit six of his seven shots and had three assists on the way to 17 points. Rivers put up 20, perhaps his most effective game thus far, attacking from the wing.

Sometimes Curry would bring it up; sometimes Rivers would. They always seemed to know where the other was. When Rivers drove, which was often, Curry would move to give him a passing angle. It gave Michigan all sorts of issues as the Wolverines struggled to defend both.

Andre Dawkins, the third quality guard in the starting lineup, was equally effective, as he finished with 14 points. Center Ryan Kelly, who plays like a perimeter player, also had 17 points. But in watching the Blue Devils, there’s little doubt that everything runs through Curry and Rivers, and their cooperation is both vital and deadly.

Duke shot 57 percent on Michigan and is shooting 49 percent as a team for the season, nearly 43 percent on 3-pointers. Those numbers might not be sustainable for the whole season, but they are directly attributable to how Rivers and Curry are setting things up. Rivers has struggled with his shot, especially his jumper early, but his penetration stresses defense. Curry, meanwhile, is shooting like his father and brother, hitting 58 percent of his 3s and 57 percent overall. Duke is averaging 81 points a game, and Curry and Rivers are responsible for 32 points and six assists a game.

“Me and Seth are starting to get a real good relationship with each other on and off the court,” Rivers said. “Which is helping us trust each other on the court.”

The Blue Devils are in the midst of a demanding start to their season. Around their games in Maui, they beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden last week and next week play Ohio State in Columbus as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. There also were games at home against Presbyterian, which just knocked off Cincinnati, and traditional mid-major power Belmont. Among other things, that string of games seems to be steeling the new backcourt and certainly impressing the country.

“[The schedule] I think is tougher than anybody in the country right now,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s how you develop it. I mean, they’re both natural scorers, they’re not point [guards]. But they’re very gifted. And if they learn how to use their gifts together, then we’re going to be better.”

A closer look: Duke 82, Michigan 75

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
9:56
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Overview: Terrifically entertaining game. Michigan looked like it needed to find its legs in the first half, but when the Wolverines got motoring, Duke couldn’t relax. Michigan kept coming and the Blue Devils kept holding the Wolverines at bay, each team making clutch shots down the stretch to make this a much closer game than the final score of 82-75 might indicate.

Turning point: The Blue Devils technically won this game in the first half, when they used terrific defense to stymie Michigan’s good shooters and built a 34-22 cushion. They needed every bit of it as the Wolverines rallied in the second. Most crucially, Duke was able to keep Tim Hardaway Jr. out of the box score in the first 20 minutes, holding him to 0-of-6 shooting.

Why Duke won: Big shots. Every time Michigan threatened, the Devils answered. When the Wolverines sprinted out of the second-half gates, cutting a 12-point lead to 37-33, Austin Rivers drained a 3. The freshman did the same minutes later with the lead a nervous six. Then it was Seth Curry turning 55-47 into 58-47, not to mention the solid free throw shooting down the stretch.

Why Michigan lost: Too little too late. The Wolverines don’t have a lot of room for error and, more than anything else, need Hardaway from the opening tip. That he couldn’t score in the first 20 minutes put Michigan in a hole, and despite the Wolverines' outscoring Duke 53-48 in the second half, that hole proved too large.

Star of the game: It wasn’t just the 20 team-leading points that Rivers sank that were impressive; it was when the freshman chose to make them. He had ice-water veins, opting to jack up an NBA 3 with Duke’s lead down to just six with 13:27 left. Rivers has looked erratic at times early in the season, especially against Michigan State, but he managed this game well for Duke.

What it means: The Blue Devils established they’ve got a terrific backcourt. Rivers still will make foolish mistakes as the season progresses, but his fearlessness is exactly what Duke needs. And Curry is the perfect complement, a capable scorer who is totally selfless. Regardless of whom the Devils play in the title game, they earned their quality win already. Michigan came to Maui as something of an enigma. People thought the Wolverines would be good but were hesitant to go all-in on a team with some legitimate question marks. Those doubts ought to be silenced. Michigan has proved to be a smart -- no surprise, with a John Beilein group -- and talented team that currently stacks up as the second-best team in the Big Ten.
How talented is Memphis?

In a 99-97 double-overtime win over Tennessee on Tuesday in the Maui Invitational, Memphis coach Josh Pastner played four bench players -- Antonio Barton, Chris Crawford, Stan Simpson and Adonis Thomas -- for a combined 127 minutes. Starting point guards Joe Jackson and Charles Carmouche played just 19 and 15 minutes, respectively, and they were rarely seen in crunch time.

Is Pastner still settling on a rotation? Did Jackson and Carmouche take a temporary trip to the doghouse? What gives?

[+] EnlargeJosh Pastner
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire"You can't say we haven't been tested," coach Josh Pastner, with forward Stan Simpson, said of his young Memphis squad.
Don't overthink it. With all this talent -- particularly the continued emergence of Barton, who scored 21 points and shot 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc against Tennessee -- Pastner wants to make sure he has the hot hands on the floor.

"I think I have a really good feel on the rotation," Pastner said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "It's more about the flow of how the game is going. Versus Belmont, Joe was so good. Against Michigan, he did some really good things. But today Antonio really played well, so it's hard to take him out of the game, you know?"

Pastner liked much of what he saw in Memphis' nail-biter of a win against its in-state rival, and he said his team is making progress on his main points of emphasis to begin the season. Those points dovetail with the qualities that held back the Tigers last season. (If anyone recognizes what held back the Tigers last season, it's their coach.) Pastner wants to see his players take better care of the ball, rebound on both ends of the floor, and focus on scoring and defending the 3.

Three games in, Pastner's review is mixed. He likes his team's careful approach to possessions; the Tigers entered Tuesday's game with the lowest turnover rate in the country, 11.6 percent, and Memphis coughed up the ball just 12 times in 50 minutes of basketball against Tennessee. Memphis' shooting has improved, although the Tigers took a step back in their first-round loss to Michigan. (They shot 4-for-20 from 3 against the Wolverines and, as Pastner put it, "took an L.") Memphis has been better defensively against the 3-point shot, too. But rebounding is another story.

"We're just getting our butts kicked on the glass," he said. "That's something that -- you know, maybe we've been in foul trouble with our big guys -- but guard rebounding has to come in there at some point, it's got to include the guards and we've just got to do so much better on the glass."

The foul trouble he's referring to is that of Tarik Black, who played just 13 minutes Tuesday. Black is easily UM's best forward, but he's averaging a mere 16.5 minutes per game in 2011-12 because he can't seem to keep himself from hacking opposing forwards on the low block. Fortunately, Pastner can go to freshman Thomas when Black is unable to stay on the floor, but what Thomas provides in offensive prowess, Memphis loses in low-post girth.

"We're a better team with him on the floor," Pastner said. "We've got to keep him on the floor. ... One of the terminologies I use is we've got to protect his first foul. Your first foul is just as important as your fourth foul, and you've got to keep away from silly fouls."

Despite those struggles -- Black's foul trouble, team rebounding and overall defensive woes -- Pastner is encouraged by his team's early play. More than that, he's happy his club has played so many quality opponents so early in the season.

"You can't say we haven't been tested," he said. "Our first four games, no one can say we schedule lightly.

"We have a lot of room to improve here still. It's a long season. But I do think we know this about our team: We've got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. We're a really fast team. And we're still relatively young."
Overview: Perhaps the only concern for Georgetown here was whether it could avoid a letdown after Monday night's hard-fought loss to Kansas. Never mind all that. The Hoyas' 88-61 win over Chaminade was a straightforward affair, one John Thompson III's team comprehensively controlled.

Turning point: Chaminade did manage to keep things close in the early goings, but Georgetown forwards Hollis Thompson and Otto Porter hit back-to-back 3s at the 13-minute mark, followed by another Thompson jumper, and the Hoyas' 21-13 advantage became a springboard to the gradual expansion of their healthy lead. By halftime, Chaminade's deficit was 45-33, and that was pretty much that.

Why Georgetown won: The Hoyas are way better than Chaminade. That sounds a little simplistic, but really, there are no brilliant insights to be had here. The Hoyas scored early and often, using their size and Princeton system to get easy buckets against the undersized Silverswords, and dominated on the glass when the shots didn't fall.

Why Chaminade lost: A distinct lack of easy shots. The Hoyas' length and active defense -- which gave Kansas all it could handle just 24 hours prior -- made everything difficult for Chaminade, which shot just 43.4 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from 3.

Star of the game: Jason Clark. This one isn't even close; just check out Clark's line. The Hoyas guard finished with 28 points on 10-of-12 from the field and 6-of-7 from 3, and he added five rebounds and an assist. Even more impressive? Clark played only 24 minutes. He was feeling it.

More observations: JTII appears to have a very promising player in freshman Otto Porter. Porter shone throughout the Kansas tilt, and he was great again Tuesday: 5-for-8 from the field, 6-for-6 from the line, 17 points, seven rebounds. It's still early, but this Georgetown team looks better than anyone expected. Porter is a big reason why.

What’s next: Georgetown's win sets up a rather fantastic final-day consolation bracket matchup with Memphis, which survived a 99-97 double-overtime thriller just before the Hoyas took the floor Tuesday. That game has it all: two young and improving teams, athleticism all over the court, a distinctive clash in styles, all of it. It will be fascinating to see how Memphis handles Georgetown's Princeton offense and zone defenses, which are not totally dissimilar from what Michigan used to frustrate the Tigers on Monday afternoon.

The going won't get any easier for Chaminade, which will face Tennessee -- along with Georgetown, the tournament's surprisingly impressive squad -- in the seventh-place game Wednesday.

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