John CalipariAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesTrey Lyles, John Calipari and Kentucky don't have an easy path to Indianapolis.
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats enter the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight with a 37-0 record. All season, the head coach heard reasons his team would falter, but so far it hasn’t happened. "I've heard a thousand ways to beat us," Calipari said on his call-in show earlier this week. "None of them have worked." At least not yet. The only foe remaining between the Wildcats and a Final Four appearance is sharp-shooting Notre Dame, who they'll face Saturday night in Cleveland. Former head coaches Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to provide insight into what Mike Brey and the Irish should do to end Kentucky's perfect season and national title hopes.

How Notre Dame defends Kentucky

Fraschilla: The best way for Notre Dame to stop Kentucky’s offense is to head to the Grotto on campus and pray. And that may not even work. But in all seriousness, the key for the Irish, defensively, is to make Kentucky work for every scoring opportunity and give up nothing easy. The smaller Irish must pack the lane and dare Kentucky to shoot from the outside. Mike Brey’s team will most likely open in man-to-man defense and stay with it as long as possible. They have only played zone on 16 percent of their possessions this season according to Synergy. When you are at a size deficit versus the Wildcats, you must take calculated risks and dare Kentucky to shoot from the perimeter. While Kentucky doesn’t feature any of its low-post players the way Duke features Jahlil Okafor, it’s interesting to point out that in three games versus Duke this year, the Irish allowed Okafor to average 23 points a game. They are not a team that usually double-teams in the low-post. Because of the small lineup, they must do everything possible to keep the Wildcats from crashing the glass. And while I like this idea of spreading Kentucky out to drive and shoot 3s, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brey pulls out the “burn offense,” extending his motion offense to the end of many possessions and burn some time off the shot clock. Another way Notre Dame’s offense can help its defense is by giving up offensive rebounding opportunities to build its half-court defense as early as possible. The Wildcats need to see five Irish jerseys as they come up the floor each time.

How Notre Dame attacks Kentucky

Kaminsky, Paige, NiangGetty ImagesFrank Kaminsky, Marcus Paige and Georges Niang play in the nation's elite conferences.
It's a simple question: Which conference has been No. 1 in college basketball this season? Is it the Big Ten or Big 12 based on top-to-bottom depth? Is it the ACC for the amount of top-15 teams? We posed this question to former coaches Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg to settle the debate, at least for the moment. Both also provided sleeper picks for every major conference tournament.


No. 1 conference

Fran Fraschilla: There are many different ways to measure which conference had the strongest season. The ACC has certainly been top-heavy, with five very good teams in Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville and North Carolina. Because I saw the Big 12 play so much, I happen to think that from 1-to-10 it was easily the deepest conference in the country.

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Seth GreenbergKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSeth Greenberg coached league favorites, underdogs and everything in between during his tenure.
As a former college basketball head coach who roamed the sideline for more than two decades, I’ve seen just about every kind of league postseason result. Top seeds cruising to a conference tournament title. Lower-ranked teams pulling a series of upsets and earning the league's only NCAA postseason bid. Major favorites losing in the first round.

I’ve had three teams reach the NCAA tournament, each of which achieved their bids in different manners. With conference tournaments now under way, let’s take a look at the approach coaches need to have in the league tournament, in all different types of situations.

Sell the players on the special team moment

It’s all about pride. It’s all about having a moment that you can share with your team for the rest of your life. When you walk in the arena years from now with those players, part of the group is hanging in the rafters. That’s the challenge that you have for those guys. You’re playing for a lifetime moment, which I think is important. That’s the automatic bid, the tournament champion. There’s something to be said for that. The league passes out the ring for the conference tournament champion, not the regular-season champion.

Don't overcoach

In the conference tournament, you’re more familiar with your opponents’ system and personnel. But this time of year, everything's principle-driven anyway. How are we going to guard the ball screen? How are we going to guard the post? What sets are we going to run? We might attack certain matchups, but if you’re reinventing yourself and overcoaching in the conference tournament, quite honestly you’re not a very good team.

In the conference tournament, playing back-to-back games, it’s all about being who you are, defending off of principle, defending off of personnel and then figuring out what you want to attack. What matchups do you like? Then you run sets and plays as you’ve done all season. You play to those sets and matchups -- your players know the personnel.

Make sure players know their role...

You want to win and lose with your best players in the conference tournament. You shorten your bench a little bit. Make sure your best players are going to be in decision-making positions to win the game for you, and you really spend time with your guys to define their expectations and roles. If they champion their roles, then we are playing for the good of the group. It’s really important to embrace your role. If everyone does what they do well, collectively we’ll be the best “we” we can be.

...but don't let one guy feel overburdened

One year at Virginia Tech we lost to Miami (Fla.).

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Coach K, Roy WilliamsGetty ImagesWho will come out on top when Coach K's Blue Devils battle Roy Williams' Tar Heels?
With No. 4 Duke hosting No. 15 North Carolina on Wednesday night, Seth Greenberg and Fran Fraschilla got together to discuss the big rivalry game. The former head coaches debated the biggest keys for both sides, each team’s X factor and the long-term potential for the Tobacco Road programs this season.


What are the biggest keys for North Carolina and Duke?

Fran Fraschilla: Let’s start with North Carolina. The biggest key will come on the inside. They gave up 40 points to Pittsburgh in the paint, and Coach Roy Williams has shuffled his inside lineup around between Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson because they’ve lost three of their past four games. It’s imperative against Duke and Jahlil Okafor that they tighten up their inside defense. That is a huge concern, and it’s jumped up to bite them in recent weeks.

Seth Greenberg: I completely agree, Fran. If you’re putting together a game plan for how to beat Duke, it starts with defending Okafor. Are we doubling him? Are we playing man-to-man? If we double him, what are we going to give and take away? The best way to defend Okafor is to make him defend on every possession. Offensively, they must try to push Okafor off the block, which is really important.

Jahlil Okafor
AP Photo/Ellen OzierHow will North Carolina defend Duke's star center Jahlil Okafor?
If you’re Duke, you have to rebound the basketball. North Carolina’s best offense sometimes is the second shot. The Blue Devils have to rebound the ball better on the defensive end, and when you have a dominant rebounder like Okafor, it helps. Duke has to find a way to force North Carolina to play in the half court and limit easy baskets. You also must continue to take Marcus Paige out of the game. He hasn’t been the same player this season as last, but in this game, on this stage, you always wonder if all of a sudden he’s going to elevate his game.

I would not be shocked to see Duke play some zone. When you look at North Carolina, they’re a little bit like Louisville. Duke zoned them in an earlier win. I think Coach K would like to see if they can defend Carolina without having to zone them, but I would not be shocked to see it. That keeps Okafor out of foul trouble, and it also forces Carolina out of their offensive rhythm.


Who are the game’s biggest X factor players?

Greenberg: The X factor in a lot of ways for Duke is Justise Winslow because of his versatility. In three of the past four games he’s had a double-double. He’s a guy who can attack and make plays. He can get Duke some easy baskets, and that’s important at times because they can get stuck.

There are two X factors for Carolina: Johnson, who impacted the game last season with his length, and Hicks, who takes pressure off others because he can score. Overall, I think this is a challenge to Carolina’s toughness. I question its toughness at times. The Tar Heels are talented, but if you were to ask me who the toughest guy on their team is, I’d have a hard time answering that. If you don’t have that guy -- the guy who raises everyone’s temperature -- that’s a concern for a coach.

It sounds silly, but when Mike [Krzyzewski] wants to shake it up, he can put Marshall Plumlee in the game. He’s going to knock people around, be physical, tough and fly to the glass. He’s going to do those things. Who is that guy for Carolina? There isn’t a guy on that team who jumps out to me that raises their temperature.

Fraschilla: For North Carolina, it’s got to be Paige. He hasn’t had as much of the big-game magic as he had last year during the end of a brilliant sophomore season. He had a great shot late against NC State earlier in the season, but he has got to get back to being the Marcus Paige of his sophomore year. He made only 8 of 27 3-pointers in the past four games, and for UNC to go to Cameron Indoor Stadium and have a chance to win, he’s not only the Tar Heels’ X factor, but just a huge factor overall in the game. It would be hard for me to conceive of North Carolina winning in Durham without a big game from Paige.

I think if you’re Coach K, you want to establish Okafor because he’s having an outstanding freshman season. But much like Paige was a year ago for Carolina, Tyus Jones has become Duke’s big-shot guy. He’s been brilliant versus ranked teams, averaging 15 points and five assists versus Duke’s six ranked opponents and shooting near 50 percent from 3. He has certainly proved to be a big-time player.

With that said, we need to throw some kudos to Quinn Cook. He’s had a big season both as a great team leader off the court and by his play on the court. He’s quietly had one of the better seasons in the ACC. I know Coach K has remarked over how his leadership has grown during his time at Duke. It’s particularly important because this is the last time he’s going to play North Carolina at Cameron. He could be a big factor.


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Ranking the nation's top frontcourts 

February, 10, 2015
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videoWith Tuesday night’s matchup between Kentucky and LSU (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) featuring a battle of two of college basketball’s best frontcourts, I figured it was a good time to provide my full set of rankings. Which group of players is most difficult to stop in the post? Which team boasts the best rim protectors? Which provide matchup nightmares due to their ability to hit from long distance?

My picks are based around production per 40 minutes, and overall impact of the frontcourt on team success. Depending on the program’s particular style of play, small forwards could be included.

Let’s now take a look at the top big-man groups in the game today.


1. Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky has as deep and talented a frontcourt as there is in college basketball. It all starts with freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. If you look at his production per 40 minutes, he would be averaging better than 18 points, 12 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. But what stands out is Towns' versatility. He’s a 6-foot-11 center who can catch it on either block and score as well as finish over either shoulder. You can put him in ball screen, pick-and-pop situations, and he can shoot it from 3-point range. Towns also has terrific hands and a great feel for the game.

Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the nation’s most versatile defenders. He can guard anybody, from a 2-guard like Providence’s LaDontae Henton to post players. The junior gives UK the ability to switch ball screens in late-game situations.

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Bo Ryan, Thad Matta, Tom IzzoMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesBo Ryan, Thad Matta and Tom Izzo are preparing their teams for March.
Beyond Wisconsin (8-1 in the league), eight teams in the Big Ten standings are separated by just two games. Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together this week to discuss the state of the conference. Which programs will make the NCAA tournament, and of those teams, who could make a deep run? Will Tom Izzo once again have Michigan State ready to surprise?

Which Big Ten teams will make the NCAA tournament?

Fran Fraschilla: Right now we’re looking at 10 teams, including Wisconsin, vying for six or seven spots. It’s looking more and more like Ohio State, Maryland and Michigan State are heading in the direction of earning a bid. Indiana certainly has some quality wins. But when you look at Purdue, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska, those teams are going to be fighting for the remaining couple of spots.


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Malcolm BrogdonTommy Gilligan/Getty ImagesMalcolm Brogdon and Virginia boast the No. 2-rated adjusted defensive efficiency in America.
The Virginia Cavaliers won the ACC's regular-season title and tournament last season, and that success hasn’t stopped in 2014-15. Undefeated just a couple of months from the NCAA tournament, Tony Bennett’s team is 19-0 and No. 2 in the country behind only Kentucky.

This is a team and program that know who they are and how they win. The Cavaliers have tremendous trust in their coach, each other and their system. Bennett and his staff know the type of players to recruit who best fit their system and culture. Although some coaches are seduced primarily by a prospect’s potential, Virginia looks more at character, toughness, skills, work ethic and the type of teammate he will be.

Virginia does not beat itself; you have to beat the Cavaliers. They are in the top five in adjusted offensive (117.9) and defensive (83.9) efficiency. In essence, they are able to get the shot they want while severely limiting opponents’ ability to score. Bennett’s team controls the pace of the game with its offense and disrupts the rhythm with its “pack-line” defense. Teams take on average more than 20 seconds each possession to get a shot off, which ranks sixth in the country and is tops among major-conference teams.

How exactly do the Cavaliers do this? What makes them so difficult to beat? Let’s take a closer look.

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Georges NiangDavid Purdy/Getty ImagesIowa State forward Georges Niang is averaging 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season.
The Iowa State Cyclones suffered one of the surprising losses of the weekend, going to Lubbock and losing to a Texas Tech team that was previously winless in the Big 12. Fred Hoiberg’s team will not have time to dwell on the loss, as they welcome the Texas Longhorns to Ames on Monday night (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). ESPN college basketball insiders Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg discussed what makes ISU susceptible after a loss like the one they suffered Saturday, and how well they expect the Cyclones to bounce back.

What was behind Iowa State’s loss to Texas Tech?

Seth Greenberg: As good as Iowa State is, the Cyclones are not without an Achilles' heel. Georges Niang is special and Jameel McKay plays off penetration, but they do not have a traditional low-post player. This makes them a jump-shooting team. If you live by the 3-pointer, you can die by it. The other concern is they get too reliant on their offense and outscoring their opponent. Iowa State needs to maintain a defensive intensity and commitment. They can’t just outscore opponents.

Fran Fraschilla: A big concern I have about the Cyclones that hopefully will be rectified by the humbling loss in Lubbock is that they have been believing the hype about how good they are.


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What Tai Wynyard means for Kentucky 

January, 25, 2015
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Tai Wynyard, who committed to Kentucky on Sunday over Villanova and Texas, is one of the best young 16-year-old players in the world at the moment.

That doesn't necessarily mean that he's ready-made to step in for the Wildcats. But they are getting a 6-foot-9 power forward who plays with terrific physical toughness inside for his age. He has an ability to make shots away from the basket, but his bread and butter is around the rim. In many ways he reminds me of a young Enes Kanter, a Turkish import who never gained NCAA eligibility at Kentucky and still ended up as an NBA lottery pick with the Utah Jazz.

Wynyard was discovered by George Raveling, Nike's head of global basketball, at the Nike All-Asian camp a couple of years ago. Along with being the best young player in New Zealand, a country that has recently turned out Oklahoma City's Steven Adams, he nearly made the New Zealand national team that competed in the FIBA World Cup this past summer. The 16-year-old phenom was the last cut on a team that included former Wisconsin Badgers star Kirk Penney and current Nebraska guard Tai Webster.

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Jahlil OkaforRich Graessle/Icon SportswireDuke center Jahlil Okafor has 140 post-up points this season, good for one of the highest rates ever.
Players such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor don’t come around college basketball very often. In fact, unlike in the days of Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and even Tim Duncan, they don’t stay very long, either.

So enjoy watching this 6-foot-11 freshman now before he leaves for the NBA draft in June. He will be the No. 1 pick.

I’ve watched Okafor since after his freshman year at Chicago’s Whitney Young High School. I worked with him at the LeBron James Skills Academy and saw him dominate international competition at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Prague before his senior year.

What makes Okafor so special is that he knows who he is as a player. Blessed with a unique combination of great agility, soft hands, keen timing and fundamentally sound footwork, he operates almost exclusively in the low post. This is his playground, even though he could operate on the perimeter effectively if he chose.

I’ve tried to watch every offensive possession of Okafor’s freshman season, and I have come away impressed as a coach. He is shooting 68 percent from inside the arc, with most of those shots coming at the rim. I can’t remember, in the past decade or more, a freshman who has more back-to-the-basket polish than he does. In fact, according to Synergy, since 2006-07 only six major-conference players have scored at least 250 points on post-ups. Okafor is poised to join this group.

Let’s look closer at Okafor’s game and break down some of the things he does exceptionally well as a post player.

1. Catch and Look Middle

In the low post, Okafor almost always catches and looks middle. By doing this, he gets to read 95 percent of the floor.

When he looks over his inside shoulder, Okafor can locate where his own defender is.

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Jahlil OkaforAP Photo/Ellen OzierDuke's Jahlil Okafor is a matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor.
Before the 2014-15 season began, I provided a list of the biggest matchup nightmares in college basketball. The players mentioned all featured different skill sets, but had one major attribute in common: They kept opposing coaches up at night. Often, it’s not creating a game plan to stop their ability, but rather limit it.

Now that we’re at the midpoint of the college season, let’s take an updated look at the top 10 list, with some familiar names from before and some new:


1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke Blue Devils
2014-15 stats: 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 68.1 field goal percentage, 3.7 offensive rebounds


Okafor is the most complete low-post player in recent years. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-4 reach and huge hands, he is impossible to construct a game plan against.

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Tony Bennett and Justin AndersonToni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesVirginia guard Justin Anderson is shooting almost 60 percent from 3-point range this season.
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to discuss the keys to Virginia's undefeated start, where the Cavaliers are vulnerable and their chances both in the ACC and nationally.

Fran Fraschilla: What I saw in the last two games is a team that we all expect to be perfect defensively, yet knowing Tony Bennett, he is going to be tweaking his half-court defense after the Miami and Davidson games. Little Angel Rodriguez proved the notion that you can drive the ball at them and you can run different multiple pick-and-roll looks and attack them that way. There aren’t many guys in the ACC who can do this in terms of getting into the teeth of that Virginia defense, but I thought Rodriguez was brilliant Saturday attacking it and getting into the lane and making plays. I also thought they had some issues blocking out, especially on the foul line -- they were caught flat-footed at times defensively.

The reason I point these out is because we all believe that they are as good of a defensive team as there is in the country, yet we are in early January and coaches like Tony Bennett are continuing to work on and tweak the things that don’t go well.

Seth Greenberg: I think every game is different. You’re playing Miami in Miami, and what are they going to do? Spread you out, have a lot of spread ball screens, make you guard the floor because they can make shots -- and that’s going to give everyone a problem. I think we tend to overreact. The reality is that even the best defensive teams are going to have some games where they aren’t as good.

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Calipari/SelfGetty ImagesThis will be a key time of year for many coaches, including John Calipari and Bill Self.
Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg got together to discuss what college coaches go through with their program and players during winter break. They specifically looked at what John Calipari, Bill Self and Roy Williams -- always among college basketball's most scrutinized coaches -- will be doing with their respective teams in the coming weeks.

Greenberg: I think this is the most difficult time of the year for a team, especially when you have young players. If you’re playing over Thanksgiving, it’s usually in a pretty good place, so it’s a good experience. But the reality is, when the campus empties up at the end of a semester, it’s basically you and your team for six weeks. It’s really hard on your players -- it’s a balancing act. It’s an important time to develop your team, but it’s also team-building time.

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Inside Louisville's stifling defense 

December, 8, 2014
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Rick PitinoAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoLouisville coach Rick Pitino has consistently had one of the nation's best defenses.
Over the past four seasons, no team has played defense at a high level as consistently as Louisville. Since 2011, the Cardinals have never ended a season lower than fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency (according to kenpom.com), and the Cardinals are on that pace once again this year.

When you think of Rick Pitino’s defensive philosophy, from his first coaching job at Boston University to now at Louisville, it has been built on panicking opponents with pressure and harassment in multiple full-court and half-court defenses. But his tactics have evolved with time and experience.

One constant through the years for Pitino, regardless of defensive scheme, is maniacal ball pressure.

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Okafor/KaminskyGetty ImagesJahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky, who square off on Wednesday, are both All-American candidates.
With Wednesday’s highly anticipated matchup between the Duke Blue Devils and Wisconsin Badgers (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) fast approaching, ESPN Insiders and former coaches Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg weigh in on what to watch for, keys for both teams and offer their score predictions.


How Duke beats Wisconsin

Fraschilla: You’re attacking a team that plays great team defense. The Badgers are always in the right spot, and will play great team defense on Wednesday. If there is a soft spot, so far, it’s Wisconsin’s defensive protection of the rim. If I’m Mike Krzyzewski, I’m thinking of playing this game inside-out from the start. I’m going inside to Jahlil Okafor, trying to attack Wisconsin’s guards off the dribble, get into the lane and try to force them to defend in the paint.

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