Kevin Durant spent his one year in college at Texas, but it seems his heart was set on a different destination before he made his final decision.
Durant was heavily recruited by the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2006, and Durant even took an official visit to see the Heels beat Duke. Durant’s high school roommate Ty Lawson ended up committing, and North Carolina hoped Durant would join him.
“They were recruiting me heavy with (Lawson),” Durant said, via Ross Martin of 247 Sports. “They were expecting us to come together. I am going on official visits. I went to a game where they beat Duke at the buzzer. And they won a National Championship that year, my junior year in high school. So I was like, ‘Man I want to go to Carolina.'”
Durant would have joined a loaded Carolina squad that featured the likes of Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green. Ultimately, that helped drive him away from the school, as he feared he wouldn’t get the playing time he felt he deserved.
“They were stacked though. They had a nice senior class. They went to the Elite Eight that year,” Durant said. “Tyler Hansbrough was there. Danny Green. All those dudes. So I would have gotten kind of lost. Not lost. Not lost, but I would have been playing 25 minutes instead of 40 minutes like I should have been playing.”
Durant starred for a year at Texas, became the No. 2 pick in the draft, and has since become a league MVP. He also very much took to his eventual college home. Putting him at North Carolina would have been tantalizing, and he may have helped them win a title, but things worked out for him in the long term.
Duke completed the comeback in an overtime win over North Carolina on Saturday, and of course they benefited from a bad call in the process.
UNC was leading 96-95 with 10 seconds left and inbounded the ball. The pass in went towards Andrew Platek, who was clearly fouled by Wendell Moore Jr. Not only was no foul called, but Duke appeared to knock the ball out of Platek’s hands, meaning it also should have been UNC ball. Instead, they gave the ball to Duke.
— Bad Sports Refs (@BadSportsRefs) February 9, 2020
The entire sequence somehow going in Duke’s favor was a prime example of terrible officiating.
Tre Jones made a free throw to tie the game and then missed with 6.6 seconds left to give his team a shot at the last possession. They won the game on a crazy shot by Moore, who was in the right place at the right time by the basket.
WOW! WHAT AN ENDING!
NO. 7 DUKE WINS IN STUNNING FASHION AGAINST UNC! pic.twitter.com/OZ50X9eQcF
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 9, 2020
In the end, North Carolina deserved to lose. They were up by 13 with under five minutes left and blew a 7-point lead with 1:11 left. They gave away the game. But the referees sure didn’t help at the end.
Also, if you haven’t seen Tre Jones’ spectacular play to send the game to overtime, make sure you watch it.
The new year is upon us, giving teams that have come out of the gates slowly are starting to run out of time to make corrections. Conference play for nearly every league in college basketball begins in earnest in the next week or so, with true road games abound and very few sure things left on the schedule.
There are plenty of chances to identify problems and correct them before March, but for some teams, those chances will run out sooner than they might realize. Here are five teams in need of a course correction after a shaky start.
No team that began the year as a title contender has been as soundly disappointing as the Gators so far this season. Mike White and company have already dropped four games and have had more than their fair share of close calls against lesser competition. Florida will enter SEC play with just one win against top 50 KenPom competition and an 0-2 record against the top 25.
The Gators’ offense has been hindered by poor shot selection, a lack of motion, and bad shooting so far this season. Florida ranks 301st nationally in assist rate — a putrid sign for a team without a true go-to scorer. Their preseason dreams of a top seed are likely in the dumps, yet there is plenty of time to turn things around and look better by March. Best of all, Florida doesn’t see Kentucky until February 22. If the Gators, a team that starts two freshmen and a transfer, can start to figure things out before then, we’ll feel a lot better about their tournament outlook.
Greg Gard returned six contributors from last year’s Badgers, a team that won 23 games and was a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Expectations were reasonably high in Madison. Instead, it’s been a rocky road thus far for the Wisconsin program, its first season in four years without Ethan Happ reliably roaming the paint. Without Happ, the Badgers have struggled to adjust defensively. On the other end of the floor, Nate Reuvers has emerged as a leading scorer, yet the Wisconsin guards have started the season with cold shooting on questionable shot selection. It’s resulted in a 7-5 record with the absolute gauntlet of Big Ten play, likely the toughest slate of any league in college hoops, on the horizon.
The Badgers most recent game, a 20-point win over Tennessee in which Wisconsin made 11 threes, could be a sign of better days ahead.
On November 19, Vermont was coming off a win at St. John’s and held a four-point lead deep into the second half against Virginia in Charlottesville. In that very moment, the sky looked like the limit for the Catamounts. Even when Virginia came back to win, the possibilities of a 30-win type season were very much in the works for Vermont. Since that loss, Vermont has hit several road bumps, losing to Rider, Cincinnati, Yale, and UNC-Greensboro. All four are good teams with tournament aspirations, yet for Vermont to reach the heights considered possible preseason, those are the types of teams against whom the Catamounts should collect wins.
Like so many teams at this stage of the season, cold shooting is to blame for so many of Vermont’s problems. More than 44 percent of the Catamounts field goals come from long range (41st most in the nation), but they’ve sunk just 29 percent of those attempts (300th best in the nation). That issue is exemplified by Vermont’s best player, Anthony Lamb, who sunk 7 of 14 from deep against Virginia but has made just 8 of 44 in his last 8 games (just 19 percent).
The Friars had aspirations of contending with the Big East’s elite tier this season, yet have failed to do so in non-conference play. Providence has played the 228th strongest schedule in the nation and struggled to a record of 7-6 so far. That makes the Friars the only Big East team with more than four losses. A three-game skid against Penn, Long Beach State, and Charleston marked a clear low point for Providence. Alpha Diallo, expected to be the Friars’ main playmaker, is shooting just 21 percent from long range and has coughed up 3.3 turnovers per game, eclipsing his nightly assist average of 3.0. If he can’t stay under control, the rest of the Providence offense, which relies on his production, will falter.
1. North Carolina
After a 5-0 start in which Cole Anthony looked like a First Team All-American, things looked great in Chapel Hill. Since then, the Tar Heels’ season has taken a turn for the worst. Anthony is injured and will miss a total of four to six weeks. That news came in the midst of a seven-game stretch in which Carolina lost five times, including twice at home.
With Anthony in the lineup, the Heels lacked a secondary scoring option and relied heavily on players who appear unready for the big stage. With Anthony sidelined, North Carolina has virtually no play-making ability and only finds points in transition or around the rim.
The ACC schedule is kind of North Carolina in light of Anthony’s timetable. The Heels’ tougher match-ups all come down the stretch of the season, with seven of their next eight conference games coming against teams ranked outside the KenPom top 50 (with the exception being 36th ranked NC State).
Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.
The Gonzaga student section is one of the best in the nation at making opposing players feel uncomfortable, and they came up with yet another unique way of doing that before Wednesday night’s game against North Carolina.
As the Tar Heels were going through their stretching routine, so too were Gonzaga students. In other words, the home fans didn’t even wait until tip-off to ramp up the heckling.
Here is the Zags’ student section antagonizing the Tar Heels. UNC players seem to be getting a kick out of it pic.twitter.com/voVhuzKepB
— Jonathan M Alexander (@jonmalexander) December 19, 2019
Gonzaga’s administration has tried to crack down on some of the ways students mock opponents in the past, but that was pretty clever. That level of effort is why Gonzaga is considered one of the tougher places in the country to play.
Gonzaga is ranked No. 2 in the nation and defeated North Carolina 94-81. The fan enthusiasm should only increase as the season goes on.
College basketball, more than any other sport, seems to have a dichotomy about its championship contenders. Even at this point in the season, you could convince me that only two or three teams can really win it all. At the same time, I’d be willing to believe that a wild March Madness could lead to chaos with a 6-seed stealing a championship. Past history tells us the answer probably lives somewhere between the two.
As I scanned for teams to consider as contenders, Duke certainly feels like it exists in a tier at the top alone. The talent assembled at Duke, being led by a legendary coach, puts the Blue Devils as the favorite, but not a sure thing. The next tier is two teams that seem capable of surviving March and also beating Duke when push comes to shove. They are followed by a group that all have high enough ceilings to make the improvements needed to go on a six-game run and cut down the nets.
Here are the 10 teams I see as capable of winning the NCAA Tournament.
On a list of ten title contenders, in a year like this year with some great teams at the top of the polls, the last spot or two will be longshots. For the gamblers out there, Marquette is an intriguing lottery ticket.
The Golden Eagles have not been beaten by anyone but St. John’s (twice) since before Thanksgiving. Marquette’s two losses in November both came at the hands of two teams who are looking and playing much differently now — Kansas and Indiana.
Steve Wojciechowski has his team playing excellent offensively, which is translating to tough wins. This season, Marquette is 6-3 in road or neutral site games, with all nine of those games coming versus top 100 competition (per KenPom).
Everything Marquette has done and is capable of in March is driven by Markus Howard. The junior sharpshooter has placed himself squarely into the National Player of the Year conversation. He sinks 44 percent of his long range attempts and is taking more than eight per game. Howard has also made himself a more effective driver this year. He’s attempting twice as many free throws as he did last year, and making 91 percent from the stripe.
He has the shooting stroke and scoring ability to win any game for the Golden Eagles. Howard has topped 35 points on six separate occasions this season. Offensively, he isn’t doing things all by himself. As a team, the Golden Eagles are hitting the 8th-highest percentage from outside the arc. When Marquette’s defensive lapses or turnover struggles bubble up, their shooting is good enough to buoy them through problems. Marquette is far from perfect, but they are a longshot to get red hot in March.
The 2018 college basketball season is in the past, which means it’s not too early to look ahead to 2018-19. We have a pretty good idea of what recruiting classes will look like, and though some NBA decisions remain in the balance, we can make fairly educated guesses as to what everyone’s roster will look like when the season kicks off in November.
We can also tell who we can expect to contend for a national title, if only based on talent. Here are ten teams who should have enough on their roster to mount a charge for a national championship if everything clicks.
1) Duke Blue Devils
You may look at this and scoff, given the fact that the Blue Devils are losing basically their entire freshman class as well as Grayson Allen. That, however, ignores the fact that Duke is bringing in the three best recruits in the nation. They will have phenoms Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish on their side. That combined with the returning base of talent should ensure that Mike Krzyzewski’s squad contend for another national title.
2) Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas is another beneficiary of a fantastic recruiting class, with top guard recruits Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes on their way in. Three major transfers, including Memphis’ Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson, should help shield the Jayhawks from the loss of Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman. They’ll be even better if Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike ultimately decide to return to school.
The North Carolina men’s basketball team was dealing with some off-court drama during last week’s ACC Tournament.
While the team was at the Barclays Center to play through the conference tournament, someone broke into the Dean E. Smith Center back on campus and stole valuables from the locker room and basketball offices.
UNC Police is asking for assistance identifying this person of interest in a
break-in to the Smith Ctr, men’s basketball offices, & locker rooms early
Fri. morning, March 9 (individual & vehicle photos attached). Those
w/ info, please contact Inv. Ross Barbee at (919) 962-0564. pic.twitter.com/8kCVIgNaaA
— UNC Police (@UNCPolice) March 15, 2018
According to Joe Johnson of the News & Observer, the thief escaped with a Playstation 4, and Xbox One, clothes, a MacBook Pro, and a financial document belonging to guard Cameron Johnson. The loot was worth upwards of $8,000.
It’s not quite as bold as someone walking into the locker room after the Super Bowl and swiping gear, but it’s certainly something. Here’s hoping the Tar Heels get their stuff back.