Category Archives: March Madness

WATCH: Auburn Fans Go Wild on Campus Celebrating Upset Over UNC

Auburn Tigers basketball wrapped up a statement victory on Friday night by upsetting No. 1 seed North Carolina in dominant fashion during the Sweet 16 of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels, who were a popular championship pick (after the Duke Blue Devils), were stunned and sent packing in a double-digit loss to Bruce Pearl’s squad.Not surprisingly, after the huge win, Auburn fans had plenty to celebrate, and they did just that on campus. As Sara Palczewski of the Opelika-Auburn News revealed, fans were wreaking havoc over their team’s Elite Eight trip.

This is what happens when you knock off a No. 1 seed in Auburn. 😳 pic.twitter.com/lVBD6MrS3B
— Sara Palczewski (@SaraPalczewski) March 30, 2019
Auburn’s Dominant Win Over UNCThe Tigers were up just two points at halftime but outscored the Tar Heels by 15 in the second half while pouring in 56 points over the final 20 minutes to win 97-80. They were led by a superb performance by Chuma Okeke, who scored 20 points with 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals. Unfortunately, he left the game with an apparent knee injury and there hasn’t been an update yet on his status.Along with Okeke’s impressive showing, Malik Dunbar scored 13 points while Bryce Brown added 12 points and four rebounds. Jared Harper did a bit of everything by scoring nine points with 11 assists.Auburn was simply on fire in this game, shooting 54.5 percent from the field and knocking down 17-of-37 from beyond the arc (45.9 percent). Along with the four aforementioned players, the Tigers got production across the board, including 40 bench points. Danjel Purifoy led the bench scoring with 14 points while J’Von McCormick tacked on 10 points.What’s Ahead for Auburn BasketballThe trip to the Elite Eight is a huge accomplishment, and the Tigers will now face the winner of Kentucky vs. Houston, which was the late game on Friday night. Whoever they face, that game will be played on Sunday, but the time has yet to be determined.As for the team specifically, attention will shift to Okeke, whose knee injury left obvious cause for concern as he needed to be helped off the floor. It was a tough scene to watch and came on a non-contact play, as seen below courtesy of CBS Sports.

Amazing sportsmanship from UNC’s players to greet Chuma Okeke as he made his way off the court pic.twitter.com/cAMeBjZsAK
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 30, 2019
We’ll certainly monitor the situation, but it’s unlikely any major update on the forward’s injury will come until some point on Saturday. After the game, Pearl was asked about Okeke and couldn’t hold back his tears while attempting to talk about the injury.

“We’re going to rally. I’ll go hug on him.”
Bruce Pearl gets emotional discussing Chuma Okeke after @AuburnMBB’s win over North Carolina. 🙏#MarchMadness | #Sweet16 pic.twitter.com/sOaD9dtrEz
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 30, 2019
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Zion Williamson’s Parents: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Zion Williamson’s parents, Sharonda Sampson and Lateef Anderson, along with Zion’s stepfather, Lee Anderson, have been with the Duke superstar since the start. Zion comes from an athletic family as his mother, Sharonda, ran track and his father, Lateef, played college football. Zion’s stepfather, Lee, also played basketball and worked with Zion to develop his game. After announcing his commitment to Duke, Zion detailed what Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski told his family that convinced him to go to Durham. “When Coach K came to my house and spoke to me and my family, it wasn’t just about basketball and what he could do for me in one year,” Zion noted to Go Upstate. “It was how he can build Zion as a brand on and off the court for like the next 20 years or the rest of my life.”When Zion is not on the basketball court, he enjoys watching cartoons with his mother. “He’s a mama’s boy and when we get time alone he’ll come over and we’ll watch the cartoon called Naruto,” Sampson said, per Deadspin. “I don’t know what that is, but we’ll sit around and we’ll watch that. So, yeah, you don’t know that about him.”Learn more about Zion’s parents. 1. Zion Admitted to Crying in His Mother’s Arms After Injuring His Knee Against North CarolinaZion’s mother is his rock and provided encouragement to her son when he could not go back into the game against North Carolina. The initial Duke-UNC game was billed as one of the biggest college basketball games in years with celebrities in attendance like former President Barack Obama and Spike Lee. After Duke won the ACC tournament, Zion detailed how much he wanted to go back in the game. “I was sitting there, on the training table,” Zion explained to North State Journal. “The game was on. My mom walks in, and I broke down. I’d been thinking about that game for so long. … I just cried in her arms. She told me that everything happens for a reason. She told me I’d be back.”2. Zion’s Stepfather Played Basketball at ClemsonPrior to Zion’s commitment to Duke, Clemson was a heavy favorite to land the big man. According to 247 Sports, their prediction gave Clemson an 85 percent chance to sign Zion. The school had family ties with Zion’s stepfather playing at Clemson. “They did everything right,” Lee told Tiger Net. “It’s nothing against the coaches. Nothing against them at all. I told Clemson when they came in the other night, ‘Somewhere along the way, you all had a mile and a half lead on the situation. I don’t know what happened along the way but you all had a big distance.’ The next thing I know I hear Zion saying South Carolina and North Carolina and Duke is inching closer. I was like, ‘Woah.’ I don’t think it was anything they did that was wrong. They recruited him hard. They recruited him fair. They were selling Clemson and I thought they did a great job. I think it was a serious point for them to recruit the way they did and they showed Zion they were serious about wanting his services.”According to Sports Reference, Lee played for the Tigers from 1975 to 1978 but averaged just 1.6 minutes per game. 3. Zion’s Mom Ran Track at Livingstone CollegeZion’s mother is also an athlete and ran track at Livingstone College. According to the Charlotte Observer, Sharonda is a middle school teacher. Zion’s rise to fame surprised even his parents. “Sometimes it doesn’t dawn on you as parents,” Sharonda explained to the Charlotte Observer. “But all the time, when he was growing up playing, he stood out among his peers. When you have elderly people come to watch and they don’t know who you are, and they’re saying this boy will be special and we’ll see him on TV, you start to think there may be something to this.”4. Zion Has a Younger Brother, Noah, Who Once Fell Asleep in His Stepfather’s Arms While He Was Coaching an AAU Game

Zion Williamson’s AAU coach on the sidelines with his son asleep AF in his arms. Loudest gym in America this kid is LIGHTS OUT pic.twitter.com/oo6xraQ2Zv
— Podfathers Podcast (@PodfathersShow) July 27, 2017
Zion has a younger brother, Noah, who the Duke star is close with. Back in 2017, Noah fell asleep in Zion’s stepfather’s arms as he coached an AAU game. USA Today detailed the moment that went viral. Noah is Zion Williamson’s 3-year-old half-brother. Noah managed to sleep through all the hoopla in the arms of dad Lee Anderson, who was coaching SC Supreme at the time.
Noah’s ability to snooze despite the noise and overflow crowd did not go unnoticed on social media.5. Yahoo Sports Reported Adidas Rep Merl Code Asked Kansas For Housing for Zion’s Family During His RecruitmentYahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel reported that there is an audio recording between Adidas rep Merl Code and Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend discussing the recruitment of Zion. The tape was not allowed into evidence during the trial involving former agent Christian Dawkins along with Adidas executives so there is “limited context to it,” per Yahoo Sports. Yahoo Sports provided an overview of the recorded conversation where the Adidas rep was essentially asking for benefits for Zion’s family. In a taped conversation that was not allowed into evidence today, Adidas’ Merl Code and Kansas asst Kurtis Townsend discuss the recruitment of Zion Williamson, who wound up at Duke. In arguing for admission, a transcript was read by Code defense atty Mark Moore.
Code: “Hey, but between me and you, he asked about some stuff … I know what he’s asking for. He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family.”
Kurtis Townsend: “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”
Because it was denied into evidence, there is limited context to it.


5 Best Kentucky Players Currently in the NBA

Kentucky under John Calipari has produced more rostered NBA players compared to any other team as of the start of the 2018-2019. A factory for elite recruits and one and done superstars, Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats produce some of the strongest teams in the nation year in, year out. With yet another loaded roster this season featuring five players projected to get drafted in 2019, including three in the first round alone. PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, and Tyler Herro are all expected to off the board early and should be able to provide quality minutes at the NBA level right away. That leads us to the five best Kentucky players currently in the NBA.5 Best Kentucky Players Currently in the NBA5. Devin Booker, SG

Devin Booker continues his 🔥 scoring with 30 PTS in the first half!
📱💻: https://t.co/cb8TXyNer6 pic.twitter.com/lUMfH1Loy9
— NBA (@NBA) March 28, 2019
The youngest member of this list, Booker wasn’t the highest touted recruit out of Kentucky and ended up falling down to the 13th pick as his playing time was limited on Kentucky’s infamous 2014-2015 season. With so much raw talent on the roster, Calipari implemented a platoon system featuring two separate units. Booker functions best as a high volume scorer and once he reached the NBA level and was allowed that freedom began to excel.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, C
It pains me to put Boogie so far down this list given the fact that he has the skillset to be a top 10 player in the league. Unfortunately, Cousins was slowed down considerably by an Achilles injury while playing alongside fellow Wildcat Anthony Davis down the New Orleans. While Cousins has looked strong in his return so far, there is quite a bit of rust he still needs to shake off as he doesn’t look like the dominant all-around force he once was.
3. John Wall, PG
Despite suffering from a season-ending injury on the year, that doesn’t necessarily knock down Wall’s ranking on the list considering the two players above him are some of the most talented young stars the league has ever seen. Once known for his elite speed and breakneck pace of play, Wall has slowed down a bit in his older years but is still able to effectively run an offense while putting up huge point and assist totals. With his play trending down in recent years, it will be interesting to see how Wall returns and if he’s the same level of player that landed him on this list.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns, C

The @Timberwolves pick up the W in LA behind 27 PTS, 12 REB, 5 AST from @KarlTowns! #AllEyesNorth pic.twitter.com/hWsM79IBjX
— NBA (@NBA) January 25, 2019
Devin Booker’s one and done teammate on the 2014-2015 Kentucky team, Towns was so talented that he was taken first overall despite only playing 21 minutes per game in a timeshare with Willie Cauley-Stein. While stuck in a poor situation in Minnesota to start his career, Towns has steadily put up a steady stream of double-doubles while showing deadly shooting from deep. Towns gave the basketball world a taste of what he could do after Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau left town and could be primed for some even bigger years moving forward.
1. Anthony Davis, PF
It is simply impossible to put anyone besides Anthony Davis at the top of his list. If not hampered by injuries and the whole “trade me to LA” deal, Davis would almost certainly be putting together an MVP caliber stat line in New Orleans. While he will most likely be gone this offseason, what Davis has accomplished in his short career is nothing short of spectacular and somehow he continues to get better each and every year. As good as Towns is and high his upside may be, Davis offers just a bit more.


The UConn Huskies Aren’t As Dominant As Before, But They’re Still Dangerous

Last weekend, the UConn women’s basketball team punched its ticket to a 26th straight Sweet 16 with an 82-74 win over Buffalo. It was business as usual except for one small detail: the Huskies are a No. 2 seed, making this the first year since 2006 that the Huskies are not a No. 1 seed. The selection committee’s decision was controversial, but UConn Coach Geno Auriemma shrugged it off, saying, “We’re not going to practice differently because we’re a 2 instead of a 1.”
Auriemma surely hopes his team doesn’t play any differently, either, as the Huskies have advanced to the Final Four in each of the past 11 seasons. In that span, they have won six national championships.
But seeding aside, are this year’s Huskies any different? After all, this team only lost two games and none in the American Athletic Conference. Are UConn fans right to be upset about the No. 2 seed, or is the seed a real reflection of the fact that this year’s Huskies aren’t quite as elite as their title-winning predecessors?
2018-19 UConn versus 2015-16 UConn
UConn most recently won an NCAA title in 2015-16, led by the dominant trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. That team went 38-0 and won by almost 40 points per game, including a 31-point victory over Syracuse in the national championship game. According to Her Hoop Stats, UConn led the nation in most traditional and advanced statistics, including points per game, points allowed per game, field goal percentage, points per scoring attempt, assists per game and block rate.
As an exercise, I selected 23 statistical categories from Her Hoop Stats on which to compare the 2015-16 and the 2018-19 teams. These included statistics on offense and defense—and on shooting, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks and fouls — in an attempt to represent the full range of each team’s abilities. Eight of the statistics happened to be categories in which UConn led the nation in 2015-16. This year’s UConn team leads the nation in just one of these statistics — foul rate — and bettered the 2015-16 team’s numbers in only three. This year’s team holds opponents to a lower shooting percentage on three-pointers, records assists on a higher percentage of its baskets, and has a slightly lower turnover rate than the 2015-16 team.

This year’s Huskies lag behind the 2015-16 champ team
Based on 23 selected offense and defense statistics comparing the 2015-16 and 2018-19 University of Connecticut women’s basketball team

Season

2015-16
2018-19
Is 2018-19 better?

Points per game
88.1
83.4

Opponent points per game
48.3
55.3

Possessions per 40 minutes
70.9
70.8

Opponent average win percentage
59.5%
56.2%

Effective field goal percentage
59.0%
55.8%

3-point share
38.1%
36.3%

Free throw share
80.0%
73.5%

Points per scoring attempt
1.23
1.17

3-point rate
28.5%
30.5%

Opponent effective field goal share
38.0%
38.8%

Opponent 3-point share
29.9%
28.3%

Opponent points per scoring attempt
0.79
0.82

Opponent 3-point rate
30.2%
32.2%

Offensive rebounding rate
39.8%
35.6%

Defensive rebounding rate
72.6%
69.9%

Total rebounding rate
57.9%
54.6%

Assist rate
63.2%
64.0%

Turnover rate
14.2%
14.1%

Assist-to-turnover ratio
1.82
1.70

Steal rate
16.6%
11.8%

Opponent turnover rate
25.3%
19.1%

Block rate
16.1%
10.5%

Foul rate
15.6%
16.9%

Source: her hoop stats

However, the 2015-16 team set an incredibly high bar; comparing any team to that team feels akin to saying, “These UCLA Bruins are OK, but they’ve got nothing on John Wooden’s 1972 squad.” Not only did the 2015-16 UConn team go undefeated, but it didn’t win a single game all season by fewer than 10 points. Seniors Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck became the first three picks in the 2016 WNBA draft — the only time three players from the same school have ever been the top three picks in the WNBA or NBA draft.
2018-19 UConn versus UConn title teams since 2009
Her Hoop Stats only offers advanced statistics on teams from the 2015-16 season to the present, but UConn makes plenty of traditional stats available in its women’s basketball archives. Here is how this year’s UConn team compares to the six most recent UConn champions in 16 categories:

This year’s Huskies aren’t quite at previous levels
How the six recent UConn championship teams and the 2018-19 rank in selected statistics

Season ranking

2018-19
2015-16
2014-15
2013-14
2012-13
2009-10
2008-09

Record
6th
1st
5th
1st
7th
1st
1st

Points per game
4
2
1
6
5
7
3

Opp. points per game
7
3
4
2
5
1
6

Field goal share
7
2
1
5
6
3
4

Opp. field goal share
7
5
2
3
4
1
6

3-point share
6
2
1
5
3
7
4

Opponent 3-point share
4
6
3
2
5
1
7

Free throw share
4
1
5
3
2
6
7

Rebounds per game
6
7
2
3
4
1
4

Opp. rebounds per game
7
1
2
6
4
2
5

Assists per game
5
1
3
2
4
6
7

Turnovers per game
1
3
4
2
6
7
5

Assist-to-turnover ratio
3
1
3
1
5
5
5

Steals per game
7
1
3
4
2
5
6

Opp. turnovers per game
7
1
4
6
2
3
5

Blocks per game
7
3
2
1
4
5
6

Source: university of connecticut

This year’s UConn team ranks the best of the seven Huskies teams in just one category (fewest turnovers per game). It also trails the pack in several categories, most of which are on the defensive end. The 2018-19 Huskies generate the fewest steals and opponent turnovers of any UConn champion since 2009, allow the most points and the best shooting percentage, and give up the most rebounds. They are also shooting the worst percentage from the field, but they are still scoring more points per game than three of the previous six UConn champions.
If you take the average in each statistical category, this year’s UConn team also ranks below average in all but two categories: turnovers per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. All together, these comparisons suggest there is some truth to the idea that this year’s UConn team isn’t as much of a juggernaut as it has been for most of the past 10 years.
Where does that leave this year’s Huskies?
Don’t panic, Huskies fans. None of this means the 2018-19 team cannot take home another championship. In fact, FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions give UConn a 70 percent chance of making its 12th straight Final Four and a 16 percent chance of winning the championship. The latter is the third-best odds of any team left in the tournament. And UConn may have an ace up its sleeve in the form of senior Napheesa Collier. The 6-foot-1 forward was inexplicably left off the list of four finalists for the 2019 Naismith Player of the Year Award, but many of her numbers actually compare favorably to what three-time Naismith Player of the Year Breanna Stewart did in her senior year in 2015-16. Here are the stats in which Collier tops Stewart:

2018-19 UConn forward Napheesa Collier vs. 2015-16 forward Breanna Stewart in 11 statistics where Collier leads Stewart

Collier (2018-19)
Stewart (2015-16)

Minutes per game
32.5
29.1

Points per game
21.1
19.4

Total rebounds per game
10.7
8.7

Offensive rebounds per game
3.2
2.2

Defensive rebounds per game
7.5
6.6

Usage rate
27.0%
26.8%

Effective field goal share
63.4%
62.8%

Total rebounding rate
17.3%
17.0%

Offensive rebounding rate
11.6%
9.4%

Field goals made per game
8.6
7.4

Field goals attempted per game
13.9
12.8

Source: University of connecticut

And here are the categories in which Stewart comes out on top:

2018-19 UConn forward Napheesa Collier vs. 2015-16 forward Breanna Stewart in 17 statistics where Stewart leads Collier

Collier (2018-19)
Stewart (2015-16)

Assists per game
3.6
4.0

Turnovers per game
2.0
1.6

Steals per game
1.5
1.8

Blocks per game
1.5
3.4

Fouls per game
1.6
1.4

Points per scoring attempt
1.30
1.32

Free throw rate
15.9%
16.0%

3-point rate
8.8%
19.9%

Free throw share
71.3%
83.6%

3-point share
28.0%
42.6%

Defensive rebounding rate
21.9%
23.3%

Assist rate
21.5%
22.7%

Turnover rate
11.0%
10.0%

Assist-to-turnover ratio
1.80
2.45

Steal rate
2.6%
3.5%

Block rate
4.7%
11.9%

Foul rate
2.7%
2.6%

Source: university of connecticut

Collier is averaging 21.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game for the Huskies. She ranks in the top 10 percent of players nationally in usage rate (27.0 percent), meaning that more than one in four Huskies possessions while she’s on the court ends with her shooting the ball or turning it over. (She registers an assist on another 21.5 percent of UConn possessions while she’s on the court.) Despite such a heavy workload, she is among the most efficient players in the nation, ranking 19th in field goal percentage (61.9%) and 22nd in points per scoring attempt (1.30).
In March, anything can happen. Sometimes a player puts a team on his or her back and carries it to a championship. Basketball fans in Storrs know something about this: Kemba Walker did it for the UConn men in 2011 and Shabazz Napier followed suit three years later. In other years, the best team does win, as shown by UConn’s four undefeated seasons from 2008-09 to 2015-16. In other years, it’s a little of both — such as in 2002-03, a dominant season for the Huskies that Auriemma famously summarized as, “We have Diana [Taurasi] and you don’t.” This year, whether the title goes to an excellent team or to a transcendent individual talent, the UConn women have a good chance of taking home the trophy. The Huskies may not be quite as intimidating as they once were, but the 2-seed is still among the nation’s best. And, of course, they have Napheesa, and other teams don’t.
 


March Madness Has Weaponized The Zone

With 10:39 left in a second-round game Sunday, Mike Krzyzewski did something you don’t think of Mike Krzyzewski doing against a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. No. 1 Duke was more talented and more established than Central Florida. The Blue Devils started four top-15 freshmen, all future pros, led by the star of this college basketball season, Zion Williamson. And yet, locked in a 54-54 tie far earlier in this tournament than anticipated — FiveThirtyEight’s model gave Duke a 91 percent chance of winning before the game — Krzyzewski needed a spark. He called for the Blue Devils to play some zone defense.
It started on a baseline out-of-bounds play for UCF. “Duke is in a zone — no, a matchup, a matchup zone,” Grant Hill called out on the CBS telecast. “They did this one trip against Virginia Tech,” Bill Raftery recalled. Guards Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire made up the front line of the 2-3 zone. Williamson stood in the paint. Out of that baseline play, UCF drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer. But the zone was enough for Duke to hold off Johnny Dawkins’ team for a while, even if it took a last-minute Duke put-back and a last-second missed UCF tip-in to seal the win.

In all, Duke deployed the zone for 11 possessions, more than in all but three of its games this season. The key second-half stretch lasted eight possessions, of which UCF scored on only three. Mostly, the zone stunted UCF’s rhythm, forcing five 3-point attempts and often pushing the Knights to the end of the shot clock.
The fact that Duke needed a late defensive adjustment at all was a surprise. But a team in its position going to zone was not — it has become a popular strategy in the NCAA men’s tournament, where even brief momentum swings can change games and seasons. Coaches tend to be more apt to use their full playbook to gain an edge. And opponents sometimes have less than 48 hours to prepare for new defensive looks. In other words, the zone can function like an off-speed pitch for opposing offenses who didn’t expect to see it coming.
This season, 12 tournament teams played zone on more than 15 percent of defensive possessions entering the Big Dance, according to Synergy Sports. But 19 teams have played zone on more than 15 percent of their defensive possessions in the tournament2.

Teams are going zone in the big dance
Among the final 32 teams in the men’s NCAA tournament, the rate of zone used in the regular season vs. the tournament in rounds 1 and 2.

Regular Season
Tournament

Team
Zone Plays
% Zone
Zone Plays
% Zone
Diff.

Iowa
671
32.2%
81
60.0%
+27.8

Maryland
30
1.5
34
23.6
+22.1

Oregon
887
48.6
98
69.5
+20.9

UC Irvine
188
8.7
35
27.1
+18.4

Florida
169
8.5
24
18.0
+9.5

Duke
105
4.8
17
13.0
+8.2

Oklahoma
180
8.6
20
15.3
+6.7

Auburn
160
7.7
16
11.9
+4.2

UCF
315
15.8
24
17.9
+2.1

Murray State
87
4.4
9
6.2
+1.8

Virginia Tech
25
1.3
3
2.3
+1.0

Kansas
58
2.7
4
3.2
+0.5

Ohio State
81
4.0
5
4.1
+0.1

Liberty
15
0.8
1
0.8
+0.0

Houston
3
0.1
0
0.0
-0.1

Buffalo
5
0.2
0
0.0
-0.2

Michigan State
5
0.2
0
0.0
-0.2

Purdue
3
0.2
0
0.0
-0.2

Michigan
9
0.4
0
0.0
-0.4

Virginia
11
0.6
0
0.0
-0.6

Villanova
170
8.9
10
8.1
-0.8

Kentucky
22
1.1
0
0.0
-1.1

Minnesota
48
2.3
1
0.8
-1.5

Wofford
65
3.3
1
0.8
-2.5

North Carolina
81
3.6
1
0.8
-2.8

Gonzaga
80
3.6
1
0.7
-2.9

LSU
67
3.1
0
0.0
-3.1

Texas Tech
175
8.6
7
5.4
-3.2

Washington
2018
95.4
133
91.7
-3.7

Florida State
119
6.0
1
0.8
-5.2

Tennessee
195
9.1
2
1.5
-7.6

Baylor
846
41.0
29
22.1
-18.9

Source: Synergy Sports

There was a time when the thought of a Krzyzewski team using a zone was unthinkable. From the 2009-2010 season until 2013-14, Duke played zone on 1.62 percent of defensive possessions. Known as an unusual defense used to compensate for a gap in talent, the zone was often unnecessary for the most athletic teams in the country (read: Duke)
But Krzyzewski has changed over time, employing zone on 14.3 percent of possessions in 2014-15, then 23.5 percent the next year. Last season, Duke played zone on about half of its possessions, including 92.2 percent from Feb. 11 on, throwing off basketball fans everywhere.
This year, with a new batch of freshmen in tow, the Blue Devils have shifted way back to 4.91 percent. But they still break out the zone in a pinch — a 2-3 half-court set or a full-court zone press — which is more than they could say five years ago. A Washington Post story earlier this month described how Krzyzewski learned parts of the 2-3 zone from the master of it, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, when Krzyzewski became the head coach of the U.S. men’s national team. Boeheim told The Post he sees hints of Syracuse’s zone in Duke’s defenses today. “I don’t think Coach K should be allowed to play zone,” Boeheim joked to reporters last season.
Zone defense appealed to teams big and small in the tournament’s first weekend. Some were double-digit seeds like Iona, Colgate and Gardner-Webb who needed the zone to try to level the playing field against more athletic teams. But there was also Maryland, which played as many possessions of zone Sunday against LSU (34) as it had all season until that point.
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon has not used much zone during his eight seasons in College Park — only on 2.7 percent of possessions. But after his technical foul put the Terrapins behind 46-31 with 16 minutes left, he called for a 3-2 zone that baffled LSU the rest of the way. Maryland averaged .95 points allowed on 38 man-to-man possessions and .59 points allowed on 34 zone possessions, erasing the 15-point deficit before losing on a go-ahead layup with less than two seconds left.

Turgeon’s strategy tweak was stat-driven. He knew LSU was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the tournament at around 32 percent. “That’s low,” Turgeon told reporters after the loss. “So everything told us to guard that way. We weren’t going to guard Belmont that way, obviously. And so we told the guys yesterday morning when they woke up, we’re going to zone, don’t know when, but we’re going to zone.”
Added LSU interim coach Tony Benford: “We knew they were going to run the 3-2, and we had worked on it. But when you don’t have but one day to prepare, it’s tough.”
In the first round on Friday, UC Irvine turned to its zone defense to fluster Kansas State and earn the tournament’s biggest upset by seed. “We knew they’d play zone, and I was just hoping, I told them to attack with confidence, not to act like we’ve never been there, because we’ve played against a bunch of people, bunch of zones,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said after the game. “But obviously we just didn’t get enough.”
The worst 3-point shooting team left in the tournament is Duke at 30.7 percent, a troublesome mark because a good zone defense could force the team to take threes. UCF stayed in Sunday’s game by mixing in a zone at times. That might hint at a blueprint for a team to take down the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed — that is, if that team can figure out Duke’s zone first.


The NCAA Tournament Has Turned Into A Dunk Contest

In one of the most intoxicating games of this year’s NCAA Tournament, the UCF Knights went toe-to-toe with the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils. Leading up to and throughout the game, considerable bandwidth was spent debating whether the soon-to-be top pick in this year’s NBA draft, Zion Williamson, would add another body to his posterized graveyard. UCF center Tacko Fall, the would-be victim, chipped in 15 points on seven made shots, each of which came in eerily similar fashion. They were all dunks. At 7-foot-6, Fall is genetically predisposed to excel above the rim, as evidenced by his ability to jam it, flat-footed.
Nobody this season dunked on Mike Krzyzewski’s squad more than Fall and the Knights. But the Blue Devils, which ultimately moved on with a win, are even more dunk crazy. And they aren’t the only team still playing in this tournament with eyes trained on the rim.
This season’s Sweet 16 features a number of teams that relish slamming the ball through the cylinder. The teams have combined to produce 1,866 dunks this season. Three of the four dunk-happiest teams this season — Florida State, Duke, and LSU — are still in the field. Another contender, Gonzaga, ranks in the top 10 while Auburn, Virginia, Tennessee and Michigan rank in the top 30 by this measure. In all, six of this year’s Sweet 16 entries have a dunk share6 exceeding 10 percent. Four years ago, only one did.

The dunkers are thriving
Division I men’s college basketball teams for whom at least 10 percent of their 2-point field-goal attempts in 2018-19 were dunk attempts

Team
Share of offense from Dunks
Made Tournament?
Made Sweet 16?

Florida St.
16.0

Stanford
14.9

Duke
14.4

LSU
14.2

UCF
14.0

Murray St.
13.8

UCLA
13.5

Auburn
13.4

Xavier
13.2

Texas
12.8

Villanova
12.8

Eastern Michigan
12.6

Arkansas
12.5

Mississippi St.
12.3

Dayton
12.2

Arizona St.
12.0

Gonzaga
11.4

Nevada
11.3

Georgia
10.9

Maryland
10.7

Virginia
10.7

Little Rock
10.6

Alabama
10.6

Texas Southern
10.5

William & Mary
10.4

Northeastern
10.4

Creighton
10.3

Washington
10.3

Vanderbilt
10.3

Texas A&M
10.2

Marshall
10.1

Source: Barttovik.com

This is less about a few dunk-crazed teams and more a reflection of the nationwide trend in college basketball. As of Tuesday, there had been 19,550 dunks this season, the highest total of any season since at least 2010. Five years ago, for comparison, there were 17,687. Individually, the 2010 season featured 23 players who had at least 45 dunks. This season there are 36, seven of whom remain in the tournament. “We’re seeing more dunks,” Jay Bilas told The New York Times, “because there are more spectacular athletes out there.”

To be sure, some of this is intuitive. Advances in science and technology make comparing today’s college athlete to those of yesteryear a comical examination. Perhaps more than ever, basketball rewards height — and, increasingly, arm length — and athleticism. Nowadays, warm-up lines seem to be as much for the fans as for the players. Tennessee is credited for starting a choreographed dunk during warm-ups that involves the entire team. It spread around the country and even reached the NBA.
The digital market is saturated with looped clips of diminutive high-flyers, players leapfrogging multiple humans and guards audaciously double-pumping in transition. The NCAA’s official website ran a listicle of players it wants to see in a dunk contest.7 Because of his dunking prowess, Williamson eclipsed 1 million Instagram followers before he even got to college.
As the number of dunk attempts has spiked, so too has their importance. Dunks accounted for 5.4 percent of all 2-point field goal attempts this season, the highest portion since 2014-15, and the fourth consecutive season that the national dunk share has risen.
In fact, according to Bart Torvik’s website, three8 of the 12 teams with the most single-season dunks since 2010 can be found in this weekend’s regional semifinals.

Of course, there are outliers. Most noticeably, Loyola-Chicago made a surprise run into and past the Sweet 16 a season ago. The Ramblers had just 15 dunks, accumulating a 1.6 percent dunk share. Duke squares off with Virginia Tech on Friday and has a clear edge on dunking; the Hokies (62 dunks) have fewer than a third as many dunks as the Blue Devils (188). But far more often, it seems that the high-flyers are moving on.
Dunks have held a special place in the NCAA Tournament for decades. It’s how many came to know the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. It’s where Florida Gulf Coast, a plucky No. 15-seed in 2013, became known Dunk City. They have been everywhere this season and will continue to be, particularly with the regional semifinals featuring Florida State, Duke and LSU, three teams that have already skied for at least 177 dunks. The play has elevated the entertainment of the sport by a considerable measure.
While the rise of the 3-pointer has justifiably garnered much attention, the dunk is the sport’s most marketable shot. The feat of athleticism is frequent fodder for highlight reels and commercials. And, since nearly 90 percent of all dunk attempts since 2010 have been converted into points, it’s likely the most efficient shot in basketball. What was once banned is now propelling the sport forward. So keep your eye on the rim this weekend as the Sweet 16 takes flight.