Here are six things we learned on Saturday.
Duke has so many ways it can beat you
Outside shooting was supposed to be Duke’s weakness. The Blue Devils make 32 percent of their 3s as a team, which ranks 283rd in the country, per KenPom. And that number was lower before Saturday.
That’s because Duke went bonkers from the outside against Virginia. It finished 13-of-21 from 3-point range; R.J. Barrett was 6-for-10. Barrett has struggled with his jumper this season, but he’s never been shy about taking them. Saturday showed why. He’s a better shooter than the percentages indicate, even if his willingness to jack is detrimental some nights.
The Blue Devils are an outstanding defensive team and usually bully folks on offense with a combination of offensive rebounding and slashing. But when they’re hitting shots, it’s over for the opponent. Virginia played well on Saturday. It didn’t matter. Duke was in control from start to finish.
The Blue Devils will win it all if they play like they did against the Cavaliers.
Markus Howard is great, but the Marquette defense was the story against Villanova on Saturday
Howard scored 38 points on Saturday, and of course, Marquette wouldn’t have come close to beating Villanova without him. But we know how great Howard is — and has been the last three years. The Golden Eagles’ competent defense is new, and it did serious work against the high-flying Wildcats.
Marquette held Villanova to 65 points, 40.4 percent from the floor and 31 percent shooting from 3-point range. Sacar Anim played an excellent two-way game — he scored 18 points and was all over the place on defense. The Wildcats had scored at least 70 points in 12 of their last 14 games heading into the Marquette matchup, but the Golden Eagles held firm.
Howard plus an improved defense is a winning recipe.
P.J. Washington is one of them most underrated players in the country
Washington scored 23 points on Saturday, and he’s been incredible over his last six games, averaging 20.8 points on 55 percent shooting from 3-point land. That’s on 20 attempts, a hefty clip for a big man. Washington’s ability to stretch the floor is huge for Kentucky, which has had spacing issues over the past few years. It makes life much easier for Reid Travis, and driving lanes are open for Ashton Hagans.
Keldon Johnson has been the Wildcats’ most consistent player, and Hagans has improved the most from the start of the season to now. But don’t sleep on Washington. He’s the inside-out presence Kentucky desperately needs, and he’s been playing like a superstar lately.
Gonzaga is scary
Remember when Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s was one of the most anticipated games on the calendar? Sure, the Gaels are down this year. But they’re ranked 45th at KenPom; you’d think it would be a decent fight.
Gonzaga just ran them out of the gym on Saturday, winning by a final score of 94-46. The Bulldogs were up by 33 at half time. Brandon Clarke, one of the best all-around players in the sport, scored 24 points in 23 minutes. Saint Mary’s went 1-for-13 from 3-point range.
Gonzaga has the No. 1 offense in the country, and it’s easy to forget about the Bulldogs since they play in the WCC. But there might not be a more talented team outside of Duke and *whispers* Gonzaga beat Duke at the Maui Invitational.
These guys are a joy to watch. Side note: Killian Tillie may miss the rest of the season, and that hurts the Zags’ title hopes. But they are good enough to win it without him.
Coby White is one of the best freshmen in America
White scored 33 points in North Carolina’s overtime win over Miami, and it’s so impressive what he’s doing. The Tar Heels are a veteran bunch, but he might be their best player; that includes Luke Maye. White has scored at least 15 points in six of his last seven games, all Tar Heel wins.
Point guard was North Carolina’s biggest question mark coming into the season as a result of Joel Berry’s departure. White has filled in admirably; he’s probably been an upgrade. And even though UNC’s Saturday performance wasn’t particularly encouraging, the Heels are rounding into form at the right time. North Carolina hasn’t lost since Jan. 12 and has had a lot of recent success in March.
The moment never looks too big for White, and he has a lot of help. The Tar Heels aren’t a team anyone wants to face down the stretch.
Virginia Tech is a bit too one-dimensional
Virginia Tech was probably the most curious omission from the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee’s early top 16 reveal, but the Hokies didn’t help themselves with an eight-point loss to Clemson shortly after. Virginia Tech is 4-4 in its last eight games after a torrid 14-1 start.
The Hokies live and die by the 3. They shoot 41.5 percent from out there, which ranks second in the country. They should take a ton of 3s, because they’re awesome at shooting. Usually. Tech went 5-of-19 from 3-point range against the Tigers and only scored 51 points.
It’s great that 3-point shooting is a major part of Virginia Tech’s identity, but it needs to develop a Plan B. Because that’s a high variance shot, and on some days, 3s just won’t fall. We’ll see if Buzz Williams can adjust in the final month of the regular season.