This Week in Hoops: January 9

Hey, everyone! Welcome back to basketball season. This is our weekly check-in to all things basketball, across the entire landscape. If something happens on the hardwood, you’ll hear about it every Monday morning, right here.  

THE BIGGEST STORY IN BASKETBALL

I desperately wanted to write about anything other than the Duke Blue Devils.

But how can we? For context, exactly one month and one day ago, I published a piece here titled “The Duke Blue Devils Are About To Be Really, Really Terrifyingly Good” and wrote things like “(This) college basketball season that looked to have an even group of top teams now has a monster team building in Durham.” Now 31 days later, that should still be the case. Duke has more raw talent than any other team in America. The Devils have eight players who would start on almost any other team. They have two lottery picks and at least two more first round draft picks in their lineup. Finding a hole in Duke’s roster is no easy feat.

And yet the program is now the source of more drama than most shows airing on Bravo. Grayson Allen, who entered this season as the national favorite for Player of the Year, is mixed up in #TripGate, where he has now (allegedly?) tripped at least three opponents in less than two seasons. He was suspended indefinitely for this transgression, as well as the meltdown he had on the bench in reaction to the third tripping indictment. Indefinitely didn’t mean much, as Allen was back after missing only one game. He was also stripped of his captaincy and apparently, per his comments to the media, also punished at Duke practice (likely with extra running or conditioning drills).

Had Duke or the ACC announced this suspension as it was enacted, it wouldn’t be an issue. The general public seems to have an issue with labeling it as “indefinite”, but then cutting it so short.

This gets even fishier when looking at Duke’s coaching situation. Coach K made the suspension decision on his own, without the ACC imposing their own punishment. Coach K then stepped away from the team to have back surgery, leaving assistant Jeff Capel in charge. It’s possible Coach K cut the suspension short because he didn’t want to shoulder his staff with that level of drama and pressure while he was away, but that’s a hollow excuse. If you don’t trust Capel to handle something like this, you don’t trust him to be the temporary head coach of Duke University. It’s more likely that Coach K watched his team get beat soundly by Virginia Tech, scolded Allen and they made their peace, enough so for Allen to return to action.

Then Duke beat Boston College and everything seemed back to normal in Durham. Except some sleuths noticed Allen’s feet getting a little…”trippy”, for lack of a better word:

The ACC reviewed the play and determined there was no conclusive evidence and wrongdoing, but that isn’t what matters for Duke. The fact is that this issue, whatever it is, will hang over Allen’s head as long as he steps on the court for Duke. That may not matter, as he’s averaged 14 points and 9 assists since returning from suspension. Coach K’s absence will prove to be a much bigger obstacle for the Devils, with ACC play ramping up, their injured freshman re-assimilating into the lineup, and two road games against top teams coming this week.

Duke remains the best basketball team in the nation on paper. Translating that to the court has become a juggling act. Coaching changes and suspensions and injuries have muddied the potential success of this team. If the Blue Devils figure everything out, at least enough to be on the same page in big games, they are the favorites to win the title. Even if they don’t figure it out, there will be no more interesting team this season than the one playing at Cameron Indoor.


BASKETBALL IS FUN!

With all of the hot takes and super serious basketball related opinions out there, it’s important to remember that this is a game being played and watched for fun. Every week we’ll highlight something on the lighter side of the hoops world. 

There was a fight in the UNLV-Utah State women’s game and one UNLV player charged off the bench to get involved, only she did so hopping on one foot. Hey, injury or not, you’ve got to back up your teammate?

New Mexico had a 14 point lead with 70 seconds left. They lost in overtime.

ESSENTIAL READING

All the pieces and posts you need to read to be on the ball. 

Palestra Back this week: We recapped the 20 best basketball games of 2016 and broke down the crucial Kyle Korver trade.

And PB shirts are still on sale!

Rush the Court: I searched for unheralded mid-majors with a chance to steal an at-large bid.

Kevin O’Connor from The Ringer detailed how the Rockets climbed from pseudo-contenders to the top tier of the NBA.

Joe Lunardi’s explanation of why he still had Villanova as the top team in Bracketology was a nice read for bracket nerds (Insider Only).


RANK SHOTS

May the Tuesday Top Tens rest in pieces. Long live Rank Shots! If you’re not familiar, this is where we rank the best teams in the NBA, college basketball, and another totally irrelevant something.

NBA:

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Houston Rockets
  6. LA Clippers
  7. OKC Thunder
  8. Memphis Grizzlies

College Basketball

  1. Baylor
  2. Gonzaga
  3. Duke
  4. Villanova
  5. Oregon
  6. Creighton
  7. Kansas
  8. UCLA
  9. West Virgnia
  10. Virginia
  11. Arizona
  12. Florida State
  13. Louisville
  14. Xavier
  15. Wisconsin
  16. UNC
  17. Purdue
  18. Butler

Athletes Names That Sound Funny in a Philadelphia Accent

  1. Marcus Mariota
  2. Kiko Alonso
  3. Rico Brogna
  4. Ricky Watters
  5. Larry Bowa
  6. DeMarco Murray
  7. Tony Romo
  8. Mickey Morandini
  9. Andrew Toney
  10. Alonzo Mourning
  11. Simon Gagne
  12. Kobe Bryant
  13. Claude Giroux
  14. Jimmy Rollins
  15. Sidney Crosby
  16. Derrick Coleman
  17. Bennie Logan
  18. Cliff Lee

Game of the Week

For the past two seasons, I’d list out every single game worth watching in this space. It took me a lot of time and effort to do something you didn’t really need. You can head over to your favorite scores website or app to see every game, but this is the one you’ll have wished you watched:

Tuesday Top Teams Tussling!

Xavier at Villanova! Baylor at West Virginia! Duke at Florida State! 

motely-thumbs

Three of America’s best conferences feature games between two teams with a chance to win the league squaring off Tuesday night. Xavier looks to rip into Villanova’s sails, making the race for the Big East crown more of a four-way contest than just three teams chasing the Wildcats. It’s a tough task for the Muskies, on the road at the Pavilion. Baylor looks to stay undefeated and hold the top ranking in the polls, in the home gym of a top 10 team. That game could get wild, as West Virginia will turn the defensive intensity up to 11 and Baylor will attack the rim aggressively. Starting an hour after each of those games, Florida State takes the big stage. The Noles are crazy talented and already beat Virginia, but this is their chance to really catch your attention. Beating the Dukies would speak volumes about just how good Leonard Hamilton’s squad is.

Honorable mention: Saturday’s slate is wild, with St. Mary’s at Gonzaga, Duke at Louisville, Xavier at Butler, Florida State at UNC, Villanova at St. John’s, and Virginia at Clemson. In the NBA, the best you’ll see this week is Grizzlies-Thunder or the very first Embiid-Porzingis showdown on Wednesday night.


Best Bets

I’m not a gambling man, and wouldn’t recommend you are either, but since this blog began, I’ve been asked for gambling advice just as often as I’ve been asked about my genuine basketball opinion. Even if I don’t have any money in the game, I watch a lot of hoops and might just be able to pick you some winners. (Last week 1-2/ Season 8-11)

St. John’s (+7) over Georgetown: The Hoyas are a mere 5-4 at home so far this season, with all five wins coming against teams with a KenPom ranking of 154 or lower and all four losses coming against teams ranked 107 or higher. St. John’s sits at #97 in KenPom’s metrics, so look for them to at least keep it close.

Arkansas-Little Rock (+2) over Coastal Carolina

UNDER 210 total points in Thunder-Bulls


Enjoy the games, folks. 

(Note: Every edition of This Week in Hoops will end with a song. I’ve compiled all of these songs into a playlist that you can find here.)

***

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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