The Dagger

  • Fast-paced, freewheeling UCLA topples No. 1 Kentucky in Lexington

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 hrs ago

    Eight of’s top 25 freshmen. Four projected lottery picks. Two of college basketball’s most storied programs. Bill Raftery on the call.

    Saturday afternoon’s showdown between UCLA and Kentucky featured all the ingredients of an early-season classic, and the game itself did not disappoint.

    Overcoming an unsteady, turnover-plagued start and a mistake-prone, needlessly anxious finish, 11th-ranked UCLA stunned No. 1 Kentucky, 97-92, in Lexington. The Bruins led by as many as 14 points in the second half en route to becoming just the fifth team to defeat the Wildcats at Rupp Arena during John Calipari’s seven-year tenure.

    What was even more impressive than the outcome was the way UCLA did it. The fast-paced, freewheeling Bruins outgunned a Kentucky team that prides itself on excelling in transition, shooting 53 percent from the field and piling up the most points any visiting team has scored on the Wildcats during the Calipari era.

    When UCLA took down top-ranked Kentucky at Pauley Pavilion last December, that win felt like a bit of a fluke.


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  • How Buzz Williams has transformed long-struggling Virginia Tech

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — As referees struggled to coax a pair of young ball boys into mopping up a wet spot underneath the basket last Sunday afternoon, Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams began to grow impatient.

    “Let’s solve this,” he screamed from the sideline. “Our guys know how to wipe.”

    Seconds later, a Virginia Tech player grabbed a towel, dropped to his knees and began scrubbing the floor. It was a perfect example of the selfless, blue-collar mentality Williams has instilled in his players while transforming the Hokies from perennial laughingstock to budding NCAA tournament contender.

    When Williams made the stunning decision to leave Marquette and come to Virginia Tech in March 2014, the Hokies were in the midst of a stretch of four straight last-place finishes in the ACC. Not only did they make an improbable eight-game leap in the league standings last season, they’re also poised to take another step forward this year.

    “Everybody on this team is unselfish,” senior forward Zach LeDay said. “We’re all coming together for a common goal, and that’s winning. Everyone has stories. We all come from different backgrounds. But we all come together to make one tough, hard-nosed team.”

  • Indiana proves itself once again by dropping surging North Carolina

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    Indiana rocketed to No. 6 in the polls three weeks ago with a season-opening upset win over third-ranked Kansas. The Hoosiers then plummeted right back out of the top 10 a mere eight days later with a stunning loss at Fort Wayne.

    So who’s the real Indiana? At last, the Hoosiers have offered some clarity.

    Indiana reasserted itself as an elite team Wednesday night with an impressive 76-67 victory over previously undefeated North Carolina. The Hoosiers controlled the game from start to finish, opening a 17-point cushion midway through the first half and holding the lead the rest of the game.

    Only once did the third-ranked Tar Heels mount a serious push, a 9-1 surge that closed the gap to four with just under five minutes to play in the second half. It was then that Indiana guard James Blackmon sunk the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer that halted North Carolina’s momentum and helped the Hoosiers close out a big victory.

    Indiana defeated North Carolina on Wednesday by neutralizing the Tar Heels’ strengths for long stretches of the game.

    One topsy-turvy month into the season, we now have a better idea of who Indiana will be.

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  • Whose stock rose and fell during the Big Ten-ACC Challenge?

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 3 days ago

    Come-from-behind victories from Clemson and Virginia on Wednesday night gave the ACC a 9-5 victory over the Big Ten in the annual challenge between the two leagues. Here’s a look at whose stock rose and fell during this year’s event:


    No longer does Ohio State coach Thad Matta have only one career loss when his team leads by 15 or more points. Sixth-ranked Virginia handed him his second one on Wednesday night when it rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to defeat the Buckeyes 63-61. Senior point guard London Perrantes was the catalyst for the Cavaliers’ comeback. Motivated after coach Tony Bennett tore into him for lackadaisical first-half play at halftime, Perrantes scored 15 of his game-high 19 points after the intermission, took better care of the ball and played his customary lock-down defense. It was Perrantes who tied the game on a 3-pointer with four minutes to go. He also had the go-ahead free throws just over two minutes later. The heroics of Perrantes doomed Ohio State to its first loss and kept Virginia unbeaten. The Cavaliers’ next challenge will come Saturday against 25th-ranked West Virginia.




  • Duke continues to win with ease without three projected lottery picks

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 3 days ago

    Take three projected lottery picks off preseason No. 1 Duke, and what do you get?

    Apparently, still a pretty good basketball team.

    With McDonald’s All-Americans Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden all sidelined by injuries, Duke has still reeled off seven victories in its first eight games against a schedule rife with quality opponents. The fifth-ranked Blue Devils added to their impressive start Tuesday night with a 78-69 victory over visiting Michigan State in one of the marquee games of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    Despite only using six players against the Spartans, Duke managed to break open a tight game with an 11-0 second-half run fueled by careless Michigan State turnovers that turned into easy transition baskets. Grayson Allen overcame a lingering toe injury to score 24 points on 21 shots, Luke Kennard shook off a rare poor outside shooting night to add 20 of his own and Amile Jefferson dominated the paint with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

    It’s unclear exactly when Giles, Tatum and Bolden are expected to make their debuts, but all are expected to return soon barring setbacks in their rehabilitation.

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  • What to watch for in Tuesday's six ACC-Big Ten Challenge games

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 4 days ago

    The ACC and Big Ten are tied one apiece in their annual challenge after Florida State and Northwestern picked up victories on Monday night. Here’s a look at Tuesday’s slate headlined by Duke-Michigan State and Wisconsin-Syracuse:

    MICHIGAN STATE (4-3) AT DUKE (6-1) (9:30 p.m. EST): The unnecessarily brutal November slate Tom Izzo assembled for his team became downright masochistic after a spate of frontcourt injuries struck the Spartans. They’ve suffered losses away from home against Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor while starting an ex-walk-on at center and relying heavily on freshmen. The last leg of Michigan State’s November gauntlet arrives Tuesday night when the Spartans visit a Duke team that has endured some issues of its own so far this season. The Blue Devils have won six of their first seven games despite McDonald’s All-Americans Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden not playing a single minute due to injury. All three are expected to sit again Tuesday night and Grayson Allen may also be hampered by a toe injury. If so, this matchup loses some of its luster, but Michigan State also has a better chance of remaining competitive. PREDICTION: DUKE. 


  • Malik Monk delivers one of the season's most impressive assists

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 4 days ago

    On a night when Kentucky produced numerous YouTube-worthy highlights, one sequence still stood out among the rest.

    It was a ridiculous assist from Malik Monk midway through the second half of the Wildcats’ 115-69 rout of Arizona State in the Bahamas.

    Falling out of bounds in an effort to grab an errant outlet pass, Monk caught the ball one-handed and flung it to a wide-open Wenyen Gabriel all in one motion. Gabriel then finished the play with an uncontested reverse dunk, two more fast-break points in a night full of easy buckets for the Wildcats.

    Here’s one video of the play:

    Oh my Lord. What did I just see Malik Monk do? #BBN

    — Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 29, 2016

    Here’s a second angle:

    We might not see a more athletic play all year better than this one from Malik Monk. #BBN

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  • Bryant freshman loses track of the score at worst possible time

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 4 days ago

    As the final seconds melted away in Bryant’s matchup with Brown on Monday night, Bulldogs freshman Ikenna Ndugba dribbled out the clock, tossed the ball high in the air and raised his arms in celebration.

    It was a perfectly normal sequence except for one slight problem: Ndugba’s team trailed  by one at the time.

    You'll see this everywhere tomorrow. Wait for the end… #0 on Bryant thinks they won and dribbles out the clock ????⚰️

    — Mike Goldfarb (@MikeGoldFool) November 29, 2016

    Ndugba’s ill-timed brain cramp doomed Bryant to a heartbreaking road loss and made a hero of Brown senior point guard Tavon Blackmon. It was Blackmon whose driving layup with 3.8 seconds left had given the Bears a 91-90 lead on the previous possession.

    Had Ndugba known the score of the game, he had plenty of time to get a shot off. The 3.8 seconds left on the clock was enough for him to try to go coast-to-coast or at least dribble past mid-court and attempt a potential game-winning buzzer beater.

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  • West Coast Bias: Why the WCC has become a career killer for coaches

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 5 days ago

    In addition to his winning track record, ties to the West Coast and history of breathing life into struggling programs, San Francisco coach Kyle Smith possesses one other quality that makes him an ideal fit for his new job.

    He isn’t afraid to come to a league notorious for chewing up and spitting out promising head coaches.

    The allure of moving closer to friends and family in California was only part of the reason Smith left Columbia last spring after six years as the Ivy League school’s head coach. Smith also truly believes he can bust up the West Coast Conference’s long-established power structure and elevate San Francisco into a contender just like he once helped Randy Bennett do at Saint Mary’s.

    When Smith joined Bennett’s staff as an assistant in 2001, they inherited a 2-27 team whose players seldom wore their school-issued gear on campus out of fear of ridicule. Only a few short years later, Bennett and Smith built the Gaels into a perennial conference title contender and worthy rival to Gonzaga despite a massive deficit in resources.

    Achieving that goal will not be easy in a league unlike any other in college basketball, one with a gulf separating its top teams and also-rans.

  • Impressive freshman Lonzo Ball has unbeaten UCLA off to a fast start

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 5 days ago

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Only one third of the Honda Center’s lower bowl was full on Sunday night when UCLA faced its first big test of the new college basketball season.

    Those fans who refused to brave Southern California’s traffic-clogged highways missed another memorable performance from the Bruins’ star freshman.

    On a night when his jumper was initially off target and his passes were occasionally too casual, Lonzo Ball was still easily the best player on either team. Ball scored 16 points, dished out 10 assists and blocked three shots to lead UCLA to a 74-67 victory over Texas A&M in the title game of the Wooden Legacy Tournament.

    While Ball started 1-for-7 from the field and failed to draw iron on a pair of first-half jump shots, his shooting touch returned to him at the best possible time. The 6-foot-6 McDonald’s All-American buried a step-back 3-pointer from behind the NBA line after Texas A&M rallied to take a brief one-point lead with three minutes to go.

    By exceeding his season averages against the most formidable defense he’s faced so far this season, Ball took another step toward proving he can succeed in a conventional system.

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