video
Well, this is it. We’ve had some good times and some bad times this season.

(Last weekend represented the good.)

But thanks for sticking with these Weekend Predictions.

Here we go. Last one of the year.

It’s been real. Until next season.

Last week: 4-1

Overall: 50-30

Florida at No. 1 Kentucky, 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: In "The Dark Knight Rises," Bane gets the best of Batman in a brutal fight scene. But it’s a Batman movie. So we all knew that Batman would ultimately get his revenge, and he did. Maybe John Calipari felt a bit like Batman last season as Florida crushed Kentucky in that 84-65 whipping by Billy Donovan’s squad at Rupp Arena, one of three Gators victories over the Wildcats. It wasn’t clear then that we were watching two Final Four teams. At that moment, Florida had proved again that it was the superior team and a contender. But those roles are reversed as Florida prepares to face No. 1 Kentucky in a matchup that could seal a perfect regular season for the 30-0 Wildcats. The Gators are 3-6 in their past nine games and 8-9 in SEC play. They began the season as a ranked team, and they’ll end it as a squad that will watch the NCAA tournament from home. But at least they can say that they were involved in Saturday’s historic matchup.

Prediction: Kentucky 94, Florida 60

No. 2 Virginia at No. 16 Louisville, 6:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: In the first matchup, Virginia probably earned its most impressive win. The Cavaliers had to play without All-American candidate Justin Anderson, who suffered a hand injury, for the entire second half. Virginia held on, but Louisville outscored the Cavaliers 34-28 after halftime. The latter should induce confidence for a Louisville squad that will host a Virginia team that continues to await Anderson’s return. But the Cavs have won seven in a row without Anderson, and they've clinched their second consecutive ACC championship, too. Their offensive efficiency has waned without Anderson, even though they've faced mid- to low-tier ACC competition down the stretch. But Louisville’s offensive effectiveness has changed without recently dismissed point guard Chris Jones, too. The Cards are barely in the top 100 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency numbers. That matters. The first matchup was a 55-possession affair. Saturday’s rematch should be a similarly rugged and tight encounter. This one will not be decided until the final seconds.

Prediction: Virginia 63, Louisville 60

No. 3 Duke at No. 19 North Carolina, 9 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN: What’s so special about North Carolina right now? Not much. The Tar Heels haven’t won a game against a genuine NCAA tournament team since they squeezed by Louisville 72-71 on Marcus Paige’s buzzer-beater on Jan. 10. After that? Losses to NC State and Pitt. No signature victories in nearly two months. But North Carolina showed up for the first rivalry game against Duke on Feb. 18. And it will fight again in the rematch on Saturday. Duke won the first game in overtime after connecting on 51 percent of its shots in a thriller. Expect another hectic rivalry game. But Paige won’t go 2-for-11 again. And North Carolina’s bigs -- Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Joel James combined to shoot 18-for-24 from the field and grab 24 rebounds in the first matchup -- will have another solid (collective) effort against Jahlil Okafor. Still, Duke has more options in clutch situations. Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook and Okafor can all step up when necessary. North Carolina is still relying on Paige in key games and moments. That’s fine, though. He’ll hit the game winner to lock up a UNC win.

Prediction: North Carolina 89, Duke 87 (overtime)

St. John’s at No. 4 Villanova, 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, Fox: Remember that St. John’s squad that fell apart in January when it lost three of four, a rut that was punctuated by a road loss to DePaul? Well, Steve Lavin’s squad has righted the ship with a 7-1 record in its past eight games. Not a bunch of mediocre victories, either. We’re talking about wins over Xavier (twice) and Georgetown. The Red Storm continue to hover around top-50 offensive and defensive efficiency numbers. So much is at stake in this St. John’s-Villanova game. St. John’s is far more comfortable than the multitude of bubble teams fighting for at-large berths. And a road loss to a potential No. 1 seed won’t harm its résumé, but a win would certainly remove any doubt about its postseason fate. Villanova has had some rough nights in recent weeks. The Wildcats are coming off a tough game at Creighton. But no team has touched Villanova at home. Jay Wright’s squad won’t squander its chance to snatch a No. 1 seed, even though it is facing a hot team.

Prediction: Villanova 67, St. John’s 58

No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 23 Ohio State, 4:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, CBS: Earlier this week, ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil’s Four Corners column identified Ohio State's D’Angelo Russell as one of the guys who could shake up the NCAA tournament the same way that Shabazz Napier did a year ago. Here’s the money quote from Russell about his knack for entering Beast Mode late: “It's just a switch that just goes off.” You have to wonder if that switch will go off in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday against Wisconsin. The Badgers are a tough matchup for any team in America. Frank Kaminsky will win the Wooden Award in a few weeks. Put him next to Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker and you have one of the best frontcourts in the country. Bronson Koenig is a special young guard, and Josh Gasser is the veteran glue guy that every team needs. But two of Wisconsin’s losses have occurred on the road. And the Badgers will struggle to stay in front of Russell, who will have another big game that will impress NBA scouts. But how on earth will Thad Matta’s program defend the Badgers for 40 minutes?

Prediction: Wisconsin 69, Ohio State 65

Kentucky takes aim at perfect regular season

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
8:58
AM ET
video
ESPN's Joe Lunardi discusses Kentucky's regular-season finale against Florida, as the Wildcats look to complete a flawless 31-0 regular season.

3-point shot: Duke's key player

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
8:29
AM ET
video
Andy Katz discusses Duke's most important player, Tom Crean's job security at Indiana and a point of emphasis for the selection committee.
video

Wisconsin clinched its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2008, but the Badgers didn’t celebrate much on Minnesota’s elevated court after securing a 76-63 victory on Thursday.

Sure, the Badgers knocked off an item on their preseason to-do list. But the league’s regular-season crown really was one of those smaller goals they were out to accomplish. The big ones, the ones that kept Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker enrolled in school this season instead of declaring for the NBA draft, now have their undivided attention.

Getting back to the Final Four and competing for the national championship are the only goals that really matter for Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeSam Dekker
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsSam Dekker gave Wisconsin a boost with his athleticism in Thursday night's win.
That journey begins in Chicago at the Big Ten tournament next week. ESPN's Joe Lunardi lists the Badgers as a No. 2 seed in his latest NCAA tournament Bracketology post, but they could still be in play for one of the coveted No. 1 seeds.

Villanova and maybe even Arizona would likely have to lose between now and the NCAA tournament in order for the Badgers to nab a No. 1 seed, but that also means they must keep winning.

Otherwise, they may end up as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, where Kentucky likely will be the No. 1 seed. The Wildcats are a much different team than the one that ended Wisconsin’s Final Four appearance last season in heartbreak. The Badgers, although relying on many of the same faces, are a better team than they were last year, too.

Kaminsky’s 2014 NCAA tournament performance helped catapult him into star status. He’s carried the weight of the spotlight with ease, living up to the hype that surrounded him. He’s a leading candidate for the Wooden Award -- which recognizes the nation’s top player -- and he’s still finding ways to astound.

Against the Gophers, he made a career-high seven assists to go with his game-high 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

Dekker also has dazzled this season, averaging 13.2 points and shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor. He finished with 20 points on Thursday.

Nigel Hayes has blossomed from a freshman reserve who averaged 7.7 points. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and has started every game as a sophomore.

The Badgers' offense has managed to get even more efficient, leading the nation in adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy. Wisconsin also is tops in turnover percentage offense after finishing second nationally last season.

The Badgers shoot it better. They don’t turn the ball over. And they don’t foul.

Wisconsin is also one of the rare teams that is not disturbed playing at any pace. Whether it's half court or a transition game, the Badgers have the personnel to still play their style.

They do have a reason to be concerned moving forward, though. Senior guard Traevon Jackson still hasn’t returned from a broken foot he suffered against Rutgers on Jan. 11. Jackson was their best on-ball defender and his presence has been missed as the Badgers clearly have not been as good defending off the dribble.

Coach Bo Ryan said on the Big Ten teleconference on Monday that Jackson may not be back for the league tournament. So if he isn’t cleared until the NCAA tournament, Ryan would face a dilemma of how to best insert Jackson back in the rotation.

Making him a starter after missing so many games could ruin the on-court chemistry developed in his absence with Bronson Koenig playing point guard. Koenig proved his worth as a starter by being a better scoring threat than Jackson. Koenig bumped his scoring average from 4.9 points in the 17 games he came off the bench to 11.3 points in 12 games as a starter before the Minnesota game.

Koenig, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, isn’t as experienced as Jackson in the postseason. But the Badgers still have enough veterans around him that it shouldn’t affect them if Jackson cannot return.

It’s a bit dramatic -- and flat-out wrong -- to say the Badgers’ season won’t be a success without returning to the Final Four. But it’s also accurate to say winning the Big Ten title isn’t the only thing they’ve set out to do.

video
Tags:

Big 12

Bracketology: High-profile teams on the bubble

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
4:00
PM ET
video
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi discusses the NCAA tournament chances for Indiana, Texas and UCLA.

Bracketology: Blind resumes

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
3:00
PM ET
video
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi examines two blind resumes to distinguish between a bubble team that is barely in and one that is barely out of the NCAA tournament field.
What we're reading while we still don't understand why anyone would want to put a tiny cellphone on his wrist. Submit links via Twitter.
  • Things are officially heating up at Indiana. A day after the Hoosiers' 14-point home loss to Indiana ended with the few remaining fans booing their team (and their coach) off the floor, Indy Star columnist Gregg Doyel went in on Tom Crean, criticizing him not only for the Hoosiers' lackluster finish but, especially, for the offseason oversigning ritual that Indiana fans (and plenty of others) have dubbed Creaning: "Creaning is a thing, and it's an unsavory thing, and it's a reason -- but just one reason, and not even the biggest reason -- that Tom Crean is near the point where his future at Indiana is out of his hands. Assuming he hasn't reached that point already," Doyel writes. Doyel's stance is harsh, yes, but to pretend he doesn't have his finger on the fan base's pulse would be naive. We've heard from more than a few who have begun actively rooting against their own team -- hoping the school and outside boosters become so dissatisfied they'll hold their noses and pony up for Crean's massive $12 million buyout. It's a bad scene.
  • It may also be a slight overreaction. That's what Indiana athletic director Fred Glass -- who spoke with ESPN's Andy Katz Thursday -- seems to think: "Tom Crean's job at Indiana is not in jeopardy, and athletic director Fred Glass told ESPN on Thursday that he fully supports the Hoosiers' coach. Glass said he had to respond after a 77-63 home loss to Iowa on Tuesday … he met with Crean on Wednesday and reassured him about his job security. 'I'm bullish on Tom,' Glass told ESPN. 'He's done a really good job with these guys. It's ridiculous to say that someone is coaching for his job for one game and that it would be up or down in one game. He's a great coach. He has my full support. I have a great deal of confidence in Tom's body of work. This team overachieved early and then hit a tough patch. There is a sense that Tom is only keeping his job because of the buyout. And while that's a big number and a significant amount of money, that's not what is keeping him in the job. I think he needs to be the coach ... I want him to be the coach here. The rise and fortunes of Indiana [athletics] is with Indiana basketball. Everybody thinks the guy with the clipboard, the next guy, can be better. But starting over is overrated. You can't be willy-nilly about it.'" IU fans won't like that attitude, but Glass does have a point. Also: $12 million is so much money.
  • KenPom.com contributor Nic Reiner "thought it would be fun to examine which of the tourney games played over the past half-decade contained the largest percentage of high-impact possessions— and thus had the most high-leverage basketball." And so that's what he did.
  • CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander tackles a fascinating subject -- college basketball players who, in their personal lives, pull double-duty as fathers. Among them? Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes and Michigan State forward Branden Dawson. Both are seniors. Both became fathers in high school. And both have turned down shots at the NBA and returned to college despite literally having mouths to feed: "In this, Dawson's final year at Michigan State, My'Shawn has lived with him, the two of them bonding, sharing meals in a small off-campus apartment. My'Shawn's mother lives back in Indiana; it was her idea to have father and child live together this season, in part because she's working night shifts at a Speedway to save money and find some quiet that was lost during the early years of My'Shawn's life. My'Shawn's been to almost every Spartans home game this season, sitting with Dawson's high school coach, Johnny Ryan, and a former teammate, Devonte Harris. These are the guys helping Dawson, watching the little one when he's away, driving My'Shawn to and from pre-K school sessions. For more than a few college athletes, this is the side of life the public does not see. It's a dimension some critics didn't realize when they were all too eager to bemoan Dawson's performance in MSU's loss last Sunday at Wisconsin, wherein Dawson had four points and two rebounds. Afterward, Dawson revealed his son was taken to the hospital two days earlier on account of pneumonia. According to dad, My'Shawn's 'not the typical kid who wants to come home and watch cartoons.' He'll want to turn to ESPN and watch a basketball game. And when Michigan State's got a road game, he'll ask Johnny or Devonte, 'Is that my dad playing? Is the game on yet? Is that my dad?'"
  • "The Wake Forest Demon Deacons found themselves trailing to Grayson Allen 19-15 at halftime, but the Deacs mounted a second-half comeback and outscored Allen 36-8 in the second half to win 51-27. Wake Forest dominated the glass in this contest, as they outrebounded Allen 21-4. Allen overcame this disadvantage by limiting turnovers. Allen had zero turnovers, which is impressive in a 5-on-1 contest, while Wake Forest had 19. Allen also finished with zero assists, which makes perfect sense in a 5-on-1 contest. Anything else clearly would have been homecooking on the part of the Cameron Indoor Stadium scorekeeper." When you're a Wake Forest fan, you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Bracketology: Tight race for No. 1 seeds

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
1:00
PM ET
video
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi discusses the cluster of teams still in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer ready for March

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
12:00
PM ET
video
Gonzaga star Kyle Wiltjer discusses his team's dominance in the WCC and his own impressive collection of sneakers.
College basketball is a great game, especially in March.

The conference tournaments that precede the NCAA tournament constitute the greatest month of any sport in the world. The excitement. The action. The upsets.

And you can't forget about the sideline antics of the coaches mentioned below. They're all successful leaders who've won at the highest stages.

But they're also some of the most animated coaches in America.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us on Twitter by using #Top10Thursday.

1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin Badgers

Bo RyanRick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports
Ryan isn't the gruff character folks see when he's on the sideline. But there's just something about officiating that gets to him. There is no evidence that the Naismith Hall of Fame candidate has actually agreed with a foul call in nearly 40 years of coaching. Just wait for the whistle and watch Ryan go.

2. Bob Huggins, West Virginia Mountaineers

Bob HugginsAP Photo/Raymond Thompson
First, he's a large man. That magnifies the effect of Huggs' outbursts. But he really brings the total package. He's demonstrative. He's a poet with profanity whenever he disputes a call. And there are always one or two assistants who have to hold him back when he's in that mode, like he's a professional wrestler threatening to enter the ring without a tag.

3. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Blue Devils

Mike KrzyzewskiGrant Halverson/Getty Images
He's 68 years old, he has won more than 1,000 games, and he's an Olympic champion. But Coach K is not above a sideline tirade every now and then. He's as effective at coaching man-to-man defense as he is at using four-letter words to express his frustration. Last season, he picked up a technical foul for throwing his pen during the ACC tournament. Then he threw a fit after he received the technical foul. Coach K don't care.

4. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse Orange

Jim BoeheimBrett Carlsen/Getty Images
The greatest meme in the history of college basketball memes celebrated an anniversary last month. Boeheim's sport coat-tossing ejection in last season's matchup against Duke went viral. Fast. Syracuse fan Neil Gold bought the jacket for $14,000. That event was simply proof that Boeheim doesn't protest. He erupts.

5. Tom Izzo, Michigan State Spartans

Tom IzzoMike Carter/USA TODAY Sports
Izzo focuses his emotions on his players more than officials. The Spartans could win by 40, but if you look at his face, you would assume his team had lost. When he's upset with a player, he doesn't hold back. Sometimes he throws his hands in the air with this look of disbelief. Sometimes he'll just berate a player. Michigan State had a healthy lead late against Purdue on Wednesday night. Didn't matter. Bryn Forbes returned to the sideline during a timeout and got Izzo'd. Smallest guy on that bench, and by far the most intimidating.

6. Frank Martin, South Carolina Gamecocks

Frank MartinJeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports
No surprise that a guy who used to work as a bouncer in Miami's hottest clubs during the “Cocaine Cowboys” era can be a bit edgy on the sideline. Everyone knows about the Frank Martin stare. Once he is locked in, it's as though he's having a flashback to his days as a bouncer. Still, his players love him. But they also don't cross him.

7. Rick Pitino, Louisville Cardinals

Rick PitinoJamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports
Everything was swell in Louisville's December matchup against Western Kentucky until Montrezl Harrell got ejected for a scuffle with a few WKU players. Both WKU coach Ray Harper and Pitino met with officials at midcourt after the dustup. Harper said something to Pitino that he didn't like; next thing you know, Pitino exploded. Both coaches drew technical fouls. Don't let the fancy suits fool you. On the sideline, Pitino is as colorful as his wardrobe.

8. Fran McCaffery, Iowa Hawkeyes

Fran McCafferyJoe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports
During his time at Siena, both McCaffery and his wife got tossed from a game. It runs in the family. But McCaffery has been more subdued this season compared to last, when he got tossed in a road game against Wisconsin. March, however, is here. And that will put pressure on every coach in America. One bad call and McCaffery could return to his former ways.

9. Tom Crean, Indiana Hoosiers

Tom CreanMike Carter/USA TODAY Sports
Yes, the Big Ten has a disproportionate number of animated coaches, it seems. A few months ago, Crean got into a back-and-forth with Nebraska's Tim Miles . . . in the middle of a game. You can judge Crean's emotions according to the hue of red on his face. Beet-red Crean. Cherry-red Crean. Tomato-red Crean. You'll see all three throughout the course of a game.

10. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech Hokies

Buzz WilliamsMichael Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports
Just Google “Buzz Williams” and “Walk It Out.” Or “Morgantown” and “Buzz Williams dancing.” Williams is like a shaken soda that gets popped open at tipoff. Just a few weeks ago, Williams had sweat through his shirt and had to change into a sweater at halftime. So much energy.

Wooden Watch: Frank Kaminsky vs. Jahlil Okafor

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:41
AM ET
video
Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams discuss the two-man race for the Wooden Award, as Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky and Duke's Jahlil Okafor battle down the stretch.

Oregon State starts five walk-ons in loss to Oregon

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:30
AM ET
video
Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle started five walk-ons in the Beavers' 65-62 loss to Oregon.
video
Think Kansas has had an impressive run in the Big 12? Try Gonzaga’s in the West Coast Conference. Not only have the Bulldogs won all but one regular-season title since the 2000-01 season, but they also have advanced to every league tournament championship game since 1998.

Gonzaga gave its customary dominant performance this season, stopping just one game shy of completing a fifth undefeated run through league play since 2000.

That’s why, for much of the second half of the season, the West Coast Conference looked to be shaping up as a one-bid league for the NCAA tournament. Because the Bulldogs cast such a huge shadow over the league, it was easy to write off the other members.

Until BYU defeated the Zags.

The Cougars gave hope to other league schools as they descend upon Las Vegas for the WCC tournament March 6-10. All of a sudden, Gonzaga looks a little less formidable and a little more vulnerable. The shine has recently dulled on two of its best players, too.

Forward Kyle Wiltjer, the transfer from Kentucky who dropped 45 points against Pacific, scored a combined nine in the final two regular-season games against San Diego and BYU. Guard Kevin Pangos, who led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, shot a combined 4-for-19 from the floor in their past two games.

Not just any team can pull off what BYU did. The Cougars boast the league’s leading scorer, senior guard Tyler Haws, who averaged 21.9 points per game this season en route to becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Cougars have the eighth-most efficient offense in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy, with unprecedented scoring balance. Kyle Collinsworth, Anson Winder and Chase Fischer each averaged around 13 points per game.

If having star power matters, Saint Mary’s will have a say in the tournament thanks to forward Brad Waldow. The 6-foot-9 senior led the league in rebounding (9.1) and was second in scoring (19.9) this season.

[+] EnlargeMark Few
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokMark Few and the Zags could still have a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they win the WCC tournament.
What’s at stake?

Gonzaga will be an angry and motivated top seed in the league after its loss to BYU in the regular-season finale. The loss not only ended the nation’s longest home win streak at 41 games but also potentially knocked the Bulldogs off the No. 1 seed line for the NCAA tournament.

To state the obvious, this ain’t the ACC. The Zags won’t have a chance to beat multiple top-ranked teams in their conference tournament, which could restore a No. 1 shine to their résumé. They’ll probably need teams such as Villanova, Wisconsin and Kansas to lose in the regular season or early in their respective conference tournaments in order to have a chance.

Aside from hating on other teams competing for a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga can keep itself in position for a such a seed only by winning the WCC tournament.

BYU seemingly went from outside the NCAA tournament bubble to punching its golden ticket to the dance with its road upset of the Zags. But the Cougars can’t feel so comfortable that they allow a letdown in the WCC quarterfinals. Anything short of a rubber-match meeting with Gonzaga in the league championship game might still be just cause for trepidation on Selection Sunday.

Saint Mary’s nearly pulled off a Gonzaga upset that could have vaulted it into the NCAA tournament conversation. The Gaels led the Zags for nearly 36 minutes -- by as many as 17 points -- before folding down the stretch at home.

The only way the Gaels can reach the NCAA tournament now is by winning the WCC as the No. 3 seed. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, considering they split with BYU and would love another shot at Gonzaga, having felt they let one slip away.

Team with the most to gain

Gonzaga is the only team that has an NCAA bid locked up, so BYU, St. Mary’s, Pepperdine and the rest of the league all have a lot to gain from winning it. But let’s be clear here: Gonzaga has the most to prove.

It seems that whenever the Bulldogs flirt with being ranked in the top five or come close to securing a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed, the naysayers start with that noise again: “They’re overrated. … They don’t play anybody. … They’re the weakest (fill in the blank) seed.”

The Zags are basically in no-win territory. If they assert their dominance over the league with big wins in the WCC tournament, some will say they were supposed to win big in this conference. If they struggle to win or, gasp, actually lose in the league tournament, some will say they’re not as good as advertised.

That chatter will continue to be revisited annually until Gonzaga reaches the program’s first Final Four. This is arguably coach Mark Few’s best team, and this could be the season they get it done. But a run to Indianapolis has to begin with a strong showing in the WCC tournament.

3-point shot: Examining Kansas' frontcourt

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
8:33
AM ET
video
Andy Katz discusses Kansas' frontcourt, Baylor's athleticism and Virginia's sustained success.
videoDURHAM, N.C. -- Grayson Allen arrived at Duke admittedly a little too shy. Like, he was quiet to the point that coach Mike Krzyzewski thought it was a problem.

Even though Allen was part of the No. 1 recruiting class that included Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, he was the only one who wouldn't be starting. He wasn't even expecting to play a lot, considering Matt Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon were two experienced reserves ahead of him.

So when it came time for every player to meet with Krzyzewski and talk about season goals, Allen ended up with a most unique request.

The basketball-related matters were secondary, No. 1 on his list?

Enthusiasm.

Whether in practice, on the bench or on the court, Krzyzewski wanted Allen to be outwardly active.

"I'm a really shy guy, and so when I first came here, maybe my quietness kind of overshadowed my enthusiasm," the 6-foot-4 Jacksonville, Florida, native said.

It didn't help Allen that Okafor, Tyus Jones and Winslow came to Duke having already known each other very well. They were all pretty familiar with how each other played, too. In that respect, Allen was initially on the outside of even his own class.

"It was a little different because me, Justise and Jah knew each other so well," Tyus Jones said. "But we quickly bonded and meshed so it didn't take too long to become extremely close."

It didn't take long for Allen to show the enthusiasm Krzyzewski was looking for, either. Both in practice and in games, Allen isn't afraid to speak up and assert himself.

He really can't afford not to anyway.

Duke's rotation is down to eight players. Its starters are responsible for the bulk of scoring and rebounding, but heading into the postseason, the Blue Devils know they're going to need the bench to come up with plays that turn a game in its favor. Allen is now showing he can provide that outburst.

"We've seen him do that time and time again in practice, where he cannot miss, and tonight, he had a great game where he was hitting shots and being aggressive," Tyus Jones said. "We all know that's the player he can be. He can come in and give us a great spark, and we'll need that come postseason."

It just won't come as easily as it did during Wednesday's 94-51 beatdown of Wake Forest.

Allen had already bested his season high of 18 points by halftime en route to a game-high 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

(Ironically, Okafor, the Blue Devils' leading scorer, had just six points. It was the first game this season he didn't reach double-figure scoring; that's how much of an aberration the blowout win was.)

"The bench played so well -- Marshall [Plumlee], Amile [Jefferson] and Grayson -- they played so well tonight," Krzyzewski said. "No matter who we had in the game, it was a very good functioning team."

Allen wasn't always functioning on that level. During the Blue Devils' first meeting with the Demon Deacons on Jan. 7, Allen played just one minute, had one turnover and never attempted a shot.

It was somewhat of a pattern for Allen to be absent from games. During the Blue Devils' first 20 games, he did not play in four and averaged just less than five minutes per game.

Allen has played in every game since Sulaimon's dismissal, and his minutes have nearly doubled to almost 10 per game.

"It wasn't really me waiting for a chance. It was just me being able to translate it in the game from practice," Allen said. "Coach has been giving me opportunities. I was able to capitalize today, and thankfully so. This is the kind of game that can get my confidence going."

Allen's 4-for-5 performance from the 3-point line moved his season percentage to 40.0, but what he was most excited about was getting on the boards. Of his four rebounds, two were offensive, and the only time he's had that many was against Furman.

"That's really what I want to do," Allen said. "I want to be able to crash the boards offensively and defensively, and just making little plays like that helps the team out."

At some point during the postseason, one of Allen's little plays just might be what helps Duke come up big.

SPONSORED HEADLINES