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What's real, what's fake, and why Virginia's still full of title potential


Another wild week calls for another round of What’s Real and What’s Fake in college basketball:

What’s real: Virginia’s effort on Saturday proof of its national title potential

Tony Bennett’s team put together an exemplary effort against Duke on Saturday in its 81-71 loss. The highlights (Duke’s 61 percent clip from the 3-point line, Zion Williamson‘s wild block) rightfully led to additional adoration for a Blue Devils team that looks the part of a national champion.

But Virginia’s strategy limited Duke’s opportunities around the rim. The Cavaliers forced turnovers on nearly one-fourth of Duke’s possessions. Duke might be the only team in the country that would have left Charlottesville with a win and a 54 percent success rate inside the arc on Saturday night.

Bennett probably wants no part of a third game with Duke in the ACC tournament or a rematch in the Final Four — both possibilities — but who else could foil this Virginia squad that did everything in its power to force Duke, which entered the game shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc, to live on the perimeter for an entire game?

Had Duke produced a 3-point clip closer to its average — let’s say, 7-for-21 — Virginia might have won by 10.

Tre Jones struggled to advance the ball past midcourt in the first half against Kihei Clark‘s pressure. Virginia robbed the Blue Devils of driving lanes and forced their stars to take difficult shots.

Virginia sustained its defensive pressure throughout the game, but a great Duke team got hot and neutralized the Cavs. Still, anyone who watched Bennett’s squad play effective basketball on every possession knows how imposing this Virginia squad could be in March.


What’s fake: Tom Crean’s postgame comments were beneficial

Whenever a new coach takes over a struggling program, he usually makes immediate changes aimed at eradicating the problems that led to his predecessor’s dismissal. But it takes time. And Tom Crean, Georgia’s first-year head coach, has apparently run out of patience with his group.

After his team’s 16-point home loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, Crean said he blamed himself “because I’m the one who decided to keep these guys.” Um …OK?

He added: “It doesn’t mean that they are not great kids, but very few programs when there’s a takeover, when you have guys that haven’t done it at any point in time really in their career, a lot of those guys, they move on. That’s what happens in a job change. And I didn’t do that. So I’m not going to complain. We’ve just got to keep doing everything we can do to fix it and make it better.”

Georgia is 1-9 in the SEC. That’s why Crean worked hard to land Anthony Edwards, the No. 5 recruit in the country per ESPN.com, and other elite prospects. But the idea that his team would have been better off if he’d kicked guys off the team when he took the job is a preposterous in-season statement.

Yes, coaches often remove players or encourage those that don’t fit their culture to transfer when they take new jobs. But they usually don’t demean the ones who remain because it’s counterproductive. It’s also a knock against former Georgia coach Mark Fox. And it’s not like Crean left Archie Miller an abundance of talent at Indiana.

Crean is basically saying, “You all stink and I should have booted you when I had the chance.” What a bizarre statement to make. He’s bashing young men whose only sin was staying with this team.


What’s real: Saturday night’s atmosphere in Charlottesville is one of the reasons NBA teams will tank for Zion

The NBA teams that covet Zion Williamson not only want him for his unique skill set, but they’re also aware of the frenzy around him and the potential to monetize it at the next level. The atmosphere Williamson generated during Duke’s win over Virginia in Charlottesville is a significant element of his appeal.

Before the game, hundreds of fans lined the sidewalks as they waited to spill into the arena. Hours earlier, Cavaliers fans rose early to attend College GameDay.

A local hotel manager fielded calls from fans seeking to fill the handful of rooms available near the arena. Per Chris Leyden of SeatGeek.com, tickets were reselling for an average of $300 on the secondary market, a nearly 200 percent increase from Virginia’s average home ticket price.

LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and Rich Paul were all there. Grant Hill, Ralph Sampson Jr. and ESPN’s Michael Wilbon were, too. From start to finish, it was the loudest venue I’ve been to this season.

That Hollywood-like element is an underrated component of Williamson’s appeal. No other player in the country can do what he did on Saturday night. The environment that he and his Duke teammates create when they hit the road is the reason NBA teams will do everything they can to secure his services.

We don’t know whether Williamson will enjoy a dominant run in the NBA. But the arenas will look, feel and sound like John Paul Jones Arena did on Saturday night wherever he plays next year.


What’s fake: The stars alone will decide the outcome of KentuckyTennessee

The matchup between Kentucky and Tennessee on Saturday in Lexington will feature some of the most talented players in the country: Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, PJ Washington, Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson.

Several of those players will be All-Americans at the end of the season. Yep, the depth of both squads could prove to be the most important element of Saturday’s game.

Since a loss to Alabama on Jan. 5, Tyler Herro has made 39 percent of his 3-point attempts. And EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards will give Kentucky reinforcements off the bench. Tennessee’s John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker have to be ready to contribute, too.

Jordan Bone is averaging 14.5 PPG (50 percent from the 3-point line) over his past four games. He’s also committed 16 turnovers in his past five outings, and Ashton Hagans is one of America’s best defenders. Losing Yves Pons to a facial injury that could sideline him on Saturday is a problem for the Vols.

This is a rich matchup where the depth of two premier programs will be tested.


What’s real: This could be the most fascinating national coach of the year race in years

This season is stacked with national coach of the year candidates. Some — Rick Barnes, Mark Few and John Beilein — have been on the list all season.

But others have emerged in recent weeks. Matt Painter is doing some of his best work with a Purdue team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 8. Chris Mack inherited a program that lost four starters, yet Louisville was listed as a top-four seed in the NCAA’s initial pairings on Saturday.

Kelvin Sampson’s Houston squad might enter the NCAA tournament with one loss.

This season’s pool has a multitude of deserving candidates.



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