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College hoops weekend preview: BracketBusters and more

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source: AP

Game of the Weekend: Sat. Ohio State @ Michigan, 9 p.m.

While the rivalry between these two schools isn’t quite as intense on the basketball side as it is for football, that doesn’t mean that this game isn’t carrying a ton of weight in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes are currently sitting in a tie with Michigan State for first place in the conference, one game in front of Michigan. A loss would put the Spartans in the driver’s seat for a league title, as OSU still has to go to East Lansing this year.

The first time these two teams met, OSU won 64-49, but it was far from a pretty affair. Jared Sullinger spent much of the game in foul trouble and William Buford was still mired in a slump. The Buckeyes used a dominating performance on the glass — lead by 17 points and 12 boards (eight offensive) from Lenzelle Smith — in the win. Aaron Craft did a solid job slowing down Trey Burke, who finished with 13 points and five assists but turned the ball over five times and shot 5-11 from the floor. As a team, Michigan only shot 8-25 from three and 35.8% from the floor. That is going to have to change for Michigan to win.

There are basically going to be two things that Michigan has to do if they want to win this game. The first is that they must put up more of a fight on the glass, particularly if Sullinger doesn’t spend the entire game in foul trouble. They cannot allow second chances to a better team, particularly if it is Lenzelle Smith that is creating those opportunities. The Wolverines are also going to have to shoot better from the floor. Burke is going to have a tough day going up against Craft, who is arguably the best on ball defender in college basketball right now. He’s not going to be able to carry Michigan to a win. If their threes are dropping, then that takes the pressure off of Burke to have to try and create.

My pick: Ohio State. I think William Buford, who has played very well in two of his last three games, snaps out of his funk and Michigan struggles to find an answer for Sully inside.

Five more to watch

Sat. UNLV @ New Mexico, 1 p.m.: I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Mountain West basketball. Not only is the quality of the basketball being played very high — that’s what happens when seemingly every roster is made up of top 100 recruits that couldn’t “latch-on” at a Pac-12 school — but the games are intense, the arenas are raucous and the players are respectful. I watch San Diego State lose to both UNLV and New Mexico the past week, and I have to admit, I’ve never seen so many opponents helping each other off of the floor as I do in the MWC.

Anyway, back to the point, New Mexico — who most had pegged as the favorite in the conference heading into the season — has finally found their stride. They are stalwart defensively, they get on the offensive glass and they have a number of shooters on the perimeter that make them a very dangerous and explosive offensive teams. The surge of Kendall Williams of late has been a good thing to see. A win puts the Lobos up two games on UNLV and a game on SDSU. A loss for the Lobos means that, once again, we have a three way tie atop the conference.

Sat. Arizona @ Washington, 3 p.m.: All of a sudden, it looks like three teams have separated themselves from the Pac-12 pack. After losing Kevin Parrom for the season and now playing without Jordin Mayes, Arizona has gone on an unlikely streak, winning five in a row to move to 10-4 in the league, just a game off of the pace set by Cal and Washington. The Wildcats are also coming off of road wins against Cal and Stanford, but the Huskies are a tough team to beat in at home.

Sat. St. Mary’s @ Murray State, 6 p.m.: This is easily the most entertaining BracketBuster game of the weekend, even if it has lost some of its luster. St. Mary’s has lost two of their last three games while Murray State is no longer undefeated thanks to a loss to Tennessee State. That doesn’t mean that the game should be any less entertaining. Both teams can score a lot of points, both teams get up and down the floor, both teams play a bit undersized and both teams have an entertaining star in the back court. I’ll watch Isaiah Canaan and Matthew Dellavedova. Any day of the week.

An added wrinkle has been thrown into this game: both teams really need this win to avoid putting themselves in more bubble danger. If Murray State loses and falls in one of their last four league games, they may actually have to worry about winning the OVC Tournament. The exact same thing can be said about the Gaels. That should make this matchup all the more fun to watch.

Sat. Long Beach State @ Creighton, 10 p.m.: Like St. Mary’s and Murray State, this game lost some of its pizzazz when Creighton lost three games in a row. But that doesn’t change the fact that we will have two teams on the court than can score with anyone in the country. LBSU has one of the nation’s best kept secrets in Casper Ware, a dynamic point guard that is capable of putting up 30 points. He’s got talent around him, but not the kind of shooting the Bluejay’s do. Creighton, whose losing streak was the result of a stretch of poor-shooting, hit 77.5% from the field on Tuesday against Southern Illinois and shot 12-14 from three.

Sun. Michigan State @ Purdue, 1 p.m.: Thank to Purdue taking advantage of the Illinois collapse, the Boilermakers are right back into the mix in the race for an NCAA Tournament bid. They aren’t defending the way that we normally expect a Purdue team to and they are likely going to get crushed on the glass by the much bigger and more physical Spartans. But their is something about this Boilermaker team. They have some scorers and they can get hot in a hurry. Most of all, they are competitors, and while that does sound so corny and cliche, it matters. Purdue doesn’t quit, especially not when they are going to be looking for revenge for the beatdown they received from the Spartans in East Lansing.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. Florida @ Arkansas, 6 p.m.

This was just too easy. Florida struggles on the road. Arkansas is awesome at home — they haven’t lost at Bud Walton Arena and haven’t won away from it. Florida doesn’t like to get pushed around. Arkansas is back to playing the 40 Minutes of Hell style that won them a national title back in 1994. Everything about this matchup screams upset.

Except for one thing: Florida’s got the kind of guards that can flourish in a game like this. The Razorbacks are going to press all over the court, which means that this is going to turn into an uptempo, back-and-forth game. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker — and, to an extent, Mike Rosario and Brad Beal — already play like they are on the playground. What happens when they play a team whose style is to turn this into an AAU game? I think Arkansas wins, but I don’t think its going to be as easy as it looks on paper.

Five more teams on upset alert

Sat. Marquette @ UConn, 12 p.m.: I know UConn lost by 18 at Syracuse last Saturday, but that was not an 18 point game. They were down two with five minutes left, fighting and scrapping and playing the way we’ve been hoping the Huskies would play all season long. They followed that up with a 26 point win over DePaul, which gives some credence to the thought that UConn is back. That may just be wishful thinking, but with UConn’s size advantage in the paint — Davante Gardner and Chris Otule are still out — if they can handle Marquette’s pressure they should have a pretty good chance to pick up a much-needed win at home.

Sat. Florida State @ NC State, 1 p.m.: I’m officially off of the Florida State bandwagon. I think this is a good basketball team, but they aren’t anywhere near great and they certainly aren’t on the same level as Duke and UNC this season. They needed a 13-1 run in the final 73 seconds against an injury-depleted Virginia Tech team at home — a run that saw more scoring that Florida State’s entire second half up to that point — to win. NC State is going to be steaming about the way they lost to Duke on Thursday night. I got the Wolfpack.

Sat. Georgetown @ Providence, 7 p.m.: Providence is still trying to work out the kinks with their new head coach, but the Friars are a tough team to play at The Dunk. They always seem to pick up a win or two there over teams they have no business beating. Ed Cooley does have four talented scorers at his disposal, so if they get hot, watch out.

Sat. Mississippi State @ Auburn, 8 p.m.: This is more about Mississippi State than about Auburn. Simply put, I do not trust this team. At all. Road games. Home games. Neutral site games. The talent is there, but somewhere along the line there is a disconnect. In no way, shape or form should a team with Dee Bost at the point and Arnett Moultrie in the middle be in the middle of the SEC pack this season.

Sat. Gonzaga @ San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.: San Francisco threw a scare into BYU on Thursday night, missing two shots on their final possession that would have won the game. The Dons have already beaten Gonzaga at home recently, upsetting them last season, and hung with them earlier this season. The Bulldogs will have a share of the WCC regular season title on the line, but if this group doesn’t come out ready to play, USF will catch them sleeping.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. Nevada @ Iona, 4 p.m.

We put together a fairly extensive BracketBuster’s breakdown here when the matchups were announced, so for more detailed previews of these games you should head that way.

I still want to talk about them, however. It seems unlikely that either of these teams will have a shot at getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an entertaining game to watch. Iona gets up and down the floor and scores points as quickly as anyone in the country. Nevada may have more talent on their roster top to bottom, headlined by WAC player of the year candidate Deonte Burton.

Five more to watch

Sat. Drexel @ Cleveland State, 11 a.m.: Where Nevada-Iona will be a run-and-gun affair, this will be a heavyweight bout. Both the Dragons and the Vikings pride themselves on their defense. If you aren’t tough, you won’t be seeing minutes in this game.

Sat. Wichita State @ Davidson, 12 p.m.: All of a sudden Wichita State looks like they may be the best team in the country outside of the Power Six conferences, which makes it a bit disappointing they ended up heading to Davidson.

Sat. Akron @ Oral Roberts, 2 p.m.: The best team in the MAC will be a good test for Oral Roberts, a talented, experienced and balanced team that can score with the best of them.

Sat. UNC-Asheville @ Ohio, 7 p.m.: You like back court stars? We got back court stars. Ohio’s DJ Cooper is one of the best point guards in the country you’ve never heard of while Matt Dickey and JP Primm just may form the best mid-major back court in the country.

Sat. Dayton @ Xavier, 8 p.m.: All of a sudden this game looms very large. Both the Flyers and the Musketeers sit squarely on the bubble, although pride may be a more important factor. Dayton has collapsed this season after a terrific start to the year. And Xavier? They are a shell of their pre-brawl selves.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 6 Oregon wins another nail-biter, 75-73 over Stanford

EUGENE, OR - FEBRUARY 18: Jordan Bell #1 of the Oregon Ducks celebrates after making a dunk during the first half of the game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Matthew Knight Arena on February 18, 2017 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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STANFORD, Calif. — Jordan Bell scored on a putback with 14 seconds left to give No. 6 Oregon its second straight nail-biting victory in a rare Bay Area sweep as the Ducks beat Stanford 75-73 on Saturday.

Bell’s game-winner followed Dillon Brooks’ last-second, tiebreaking 3-pointer three nights earlier at California to give Oregon (26-4, 15-2 Pac-12) its second sweep of its conference Bay Area rivals since 1976. The other came two years ago.

Tyler Dorsey scored 15 points to lead Oregon, while Brooks added 14.

Reid Travis had 27 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way for the Cardinal (14-14, 6-10), but committed a turnover on the final possession to end any comeback hopes.

Stanford trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half but battled back to tie the game five times in the second half. But it took until that fifth equalizer for the Cardinal to take their first lead since being up 9-8 early in the first half.

Travis’ jumper in the lane made it 71-69 with less than 3 minutes left but the lead was short-lived as Brooks hit a jumper at the other end to tie it.

The game was tied at 73 when the Ducks managed four offensive rebounds on one possession before finally converting on Bell’s shot with 14 seconds left. It capped a wild sequence that started when Dylan Ennis missed an off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down. Payton Pritchard missed on the putback attempt before Bell converted his.

Travis lost the ball in the paint at the other end to seal the victory for Oregon.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks capped a 7-1 February with just their second road sweep of the conference season as they peaking at the right time of year. Their only loss in that span came on a late 3-pointer by Lonzo Ball in an 82-79 loss at UCLA. Oregon has one more road game left to finish the regular season at last-place Oregon State, and remains in contention for a Pac-12 title and a top two seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Stanford: The Cardinal were unable to follow up home wins against California and Oregon State when faced by tougher competition from the Ducks. That has been an issue all season for Stanford, which fell to 0-8 against ranked opponents.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Stanford: Visits Colorado on Thursday.

Shamet’s 23 points leads Wichita State to share of MVC title

WICHITA, KS - NOVEMBER 13:  Guard Landry Shamet #11 of the Wichita State Shockers dribbles the ball up court against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers during the first half on November 13, 2015 at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) Landry Shamet scored a career-best 23 points as No. 25 Wichita State clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title for a fourth straight season with an 86-67 victory over Missouri State on Saturday.

The title is the fifth in six seasons for the Shockers (27-4, 17-1), who have won 12 straight games and appear well on their way to a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Shamet finished 9-of-12 shooting, 5 of 8 from 3-point range, while topping his previous best of 20 points – set against South Dakota State in December. Shaq Morris added 20 points for Wichita State, which has won 14 straight games over the Bears (16-15, 7-11), while Conner Frankamp had 14 points.

Dequon Miller led Missouri State with 19 points, while Alize Johnson had 18 points and 12 rebounds.

The Shockers led by as many as 10 points in the first half before Missouri State cut the lead to 50-46 early in the second half. However, Wichita State followed by hitting five of its 11 3-pointers for the game during a 20-8 run that pushed the lead to 70-54 and put the game out of reach.

Shamet hit four of his 3-pointers in the second half for the Shockers, who added to the school record for 3-pointers in a season (274) they set in a win earlier in the week against Evansville.

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers entered The Associated Press poll for the first time in a year this week, and they aren’t going anywhere yet after wins over Evansville on Tuesday and Saturday’s win over Missouri State. The real question for Wichita State is whether its late-season surge is enough for the school – rated 44th in the NCAA’s RPI ratings – to have already secured an NCAA Tournament berth, if it doesn’t win the MVC Tournament next week.

Missouri State: Johnson’s double-double was the 16th of the season for the 6-foot-9 junior. Despite outrebounding Wichita State 33-31, though, the Bears were able to improve on an 80-62 loss to the Shockers in Kansas on Feb. 9, allowing Wichita State to shoot 54.1 percent (33 of 61) in the win.

UP NEXT

Both teams next play at the MVC Tournament in St. Louis from March 2-5.

For more college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 11 Kentucky rallies past No. 13 Florida 76-66

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 31:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on January 31, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Not satisfied with making perimeter jumpers, Malik Monk drove to the basket to create numerous opportunities at the free throw line and found openings to feed his Kentucky teammates.

The freshman guard wasn’t aware until afterward of how many points he had piled up, but he knew that they helped the 11th-ranked Wildcats earn their most important victory this season.

Monk scored 30 of his 33 points in the second half, Bam Adebayo added 18 points with 15 rebounds and Kentucky rallied past No. 13 Florida for a 76-66 victory Saturday to take over the Southeastern Conference lead.

“I didn’t know about that until after the game,” said Monk, who made 10 of 11 free throws and five 3-pointers along with a team-high five assists. That contribution definitely came in handy as point guard De’Aaron Fox missed the game with a knee contusion.

“I was just playing, but it was crazy,” Monk added. “I was way more patient in the second half than I was in the first half.”

While another week remains in SEC play for both teams, the Wildcats (24-5, 14-2) took an important step toward clinching the regular season title by twice rallying from eight points down to win the pivotal matchup. And they can thank Monk for making it happen as he scored 14 points during an 18-10 run that tied the game at 55 with 9:54 remaining.

The high-scoring Monk ended up with the most points in one half by a player under coach John Calipari, who was also taken aback by the outburst.

“Oh, he got 30 in a half?” Calipari said. “No wonder when I got on him about a couple of bad shots, he looked at me like I was crazy.”

Adebayo also overcame a slow start with 12 second-half points after grabbing 11 boards to rally Kentucky.

The 6-foot-10 freshman followed Monk’s key stretch with six straight points before Monk added seven more in between lobbing a pass to Adebayo for a 70-60 lead with 4:04 left. Monk sandwiched two free throws around layups by Isaiah Briscoe and Adebayo, points that proved critical in thwarting rally attempts by the Gators (23-6, 13-3).

Kentucky shot 64 percent in the second half to avenge a 22-point loss to Florida earlier this month. The Wildcats also outrebounded the Gators 48-30 with Adebayo grabbing 15 for the second straight game.

KeVaughn Allen had 24 points and Justin Leon added 13 for Florida, which had won nine straight. Devin Robinson had nine points and 11 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators had several chances to make things hard on Kentucky away but didn’t succeed, letting a 12-point lead slip away in the first half before letting a couple of second-half edges slip away. Several cold stretches didn’t help but rebounding was telling in this rematch as they were beaten on the glass after owning the boards 54-29 in the first meeting in Gainesville three weeks ago.

Most difficult was stopping Monk, who seemed to have answer for every defense they tried to contain him.

“We had a couple of options that did a good job on him in Gainesville,” coach Mike White said. “We just didn’t do quite as good of a job (in Lexington), especially down the stretch.”

Kentucky: The Wildcats started raggedly without Fox but clawed back throughout thanks to Monk’s scoring. Others chipped in big on the glass, as Derek Willis had nine rebounds, Briscoe eight and Dominique Hawkins six. They succeeded despite committing 16 turnovers, but only four after halftime.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky’s gutty win could move the Wildcats back into the Top 10.

ON A ROLL

Adebayo posted his second straight double-double and has 40 points and 30 rebounds the past two games. He’s the first with consecutive double-doubles since Tyler Ulis did so last March.

“My confidence just keeps building,” said Adebayo, who also had a career-best 15 rebounds at Missouri.

FOUL TROUBLE

Four Gators had four fouls, including guards Kasey Hill and Allen.

UP NEXT

Florida: The Gators host Arkansas on Wednesday night.

Kentucky: Hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday night in its home finale.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Malik Monk scores 30 in second half to lead No. 11 Kentucky past No. 13 Florida

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 25:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates during the game against the  Florida Gators at Rupp Arena on February 25, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The reason why No. 11 Kentucky is still a national title contender, the reason why no one will ever be able to say that this team cannot get to a Final Four regardless of how much they have struggled over the course of the last month of the season, is Malik Monk.

He’s also the reason why that run isn’t all that likely.

Simply put, he’s college basketball’s single-most unstoppable force, and, once again, he showed us all why on Saturday. Monk scored 30 of his 33 points after halftime and added six assists as the Wildcats outscored No. 13 Florida 32-14 in the final 13 minutes of a 76-66 win that put them in the driver’s seat for the SEC regular season title.

The Gators and the Wildcats entered Saturday tied for first in the league at 13-2. Florida was able to jump out to early leads in both halves, but it was Kentucky that took control down the stretch. Much of that credit goes to Monk, whose shooting brought an energy to Rupp Arena that we haven’t seen in a while and brought on an effort defensively that doesn’t always show up when Kentucky takes the floor.

For a while during the second half, Kentucky looked like the team that we saw early in the season despite the fact that De’Aaron Fox wasn’t playing due to a knee bruise. Their athletes were flying around defensively, they were getting out and running in transition, they were throwing down crazy dunks. That’s the way they played in November and December, when they were scoring in the 90s on a nightly basis and beating teams like Arizona State by 46 points.

That coincided with the time that Monk caught fire.

It’s not just energy that he brings. It’s not just the confidence you see Kentucky’s players get when he’s draining 30-footers like they’re free throws. When he’s scoring, it opens everything up for them on the offensive end of the floor. He’s a shooter with gravity, dragging defenders with him, and he’s a willing and capable enough passer to be able to find open teammates when he puts the ball on the floor. That Kentucky was able to put this kind of a run on a very good Florida team tells you all you need to know about how dangerous they can be.

But here’s the issue: to get to a Final Four, Kentucky, who seems likely to end up around a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, is going to have to beat three really good teams in a row. To win a national title, they’re going to have to do it five straight times. Can Monk catch fire for three straight weeks?

Since the start of the new year, Monk has scored at least 20 points in consecutive games just once — one of those games was a lost at Tennessee — and it’s probably worth noting that the best win Kentucky has in a game where Monk finished below his season scoring average is probably Arkansas at home.

There are a couple of x-factors here, the most obvious of which is De’Aaron Fox getting back to full strength. Between rolled ankles, bruised knees and illnesses, Fox just hasn’t looked like himself for a month. When he’s right, he can be a difference-maker, as can Bam Adebayo, who went for 18 points and 15 boards against a Florida team playing without John Egbunu. He had 22 points and 15 boards against Missouri on Wednesday, and has been playing his best basketball of the season the last couple of weeks.

It should go without saying that Kentucky is better when those two are better. It reduces their reliance on one player doing something that, statistically, is not all that likely.

But they aren’t what makes Kentucky dangerous.

That’s Monk.

He’s good enough that he can literally carry Kentucky to a win over anyone.

But unless Kentucky can find a way to be consistently good on the nights where the inconsistently great Monk isn’t, it’s hard to imagine them making a run to Phoenix.

No. 10 Duke falls at Miami behind Bruce Brown’s 23 points

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 15: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils gets off the ground during Duke's game against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on February 15, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)
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No. 10 Duke is back to not being back again, right?

The Blue Devils went down to Coral Gables on Saturday afternoon and lost 55-50 to Miami. It’s their second consecutive loss, coming just three days and 1,500 miles after the Blue Devils lost at Syracuse.

That’s the kind of week that will probably convince people that the Blue Devils were, in fact, fraudulent all along.

And frankly, that’s a pretty dumb way to view what’s happened to Duke over the course of the last four days.

Because here’s the truth: Duke lost by five points on the road in league play to a team that’s currently sitting as a No. 8 seed in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection and in a game where they were only favored by one. They lost on the same floor that North Carolina lost on by 15 points earlier this month to a team that is now tied with them in the ACC standings. They lost that game playing without their starting point guard, Grayson Allen, who sat out with an ankle injury. And playing without their starting point guard, the Blue Devils scored just .794 points-per-possession in a game where Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum combined to shoot just 10-for-36 from the floor.

That’s not a bad loss.

Neither is losing on the road to a Syracuse team that is just a game behind them in the ACC standings on a banked-in, buzzer-beating 23-footer in a game where Allen shot like he was shaving points in a game where he tried to battle through the ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup on Saturday. For what it’s worth, the spread in that game was Duke winning by three.

The point here isn’t to makes excuses for Duke.

The point is that taking a pair of close road losses in conference play while battling through some injuries does not a bad team make.

The ACC is a bear this year. North Carolina is the only team in the conference that doesn’t have at least five league losses with more than a week left in the regular season, and they might be the best team in college basketball. We knew this heading into the season, and it’s proven to be true. Everyone took their lumps in league play, and Duke was no different.

I’m not here to tell you what you should think of Duke. Personally, I think that a team with Allen, Kennard and Tatum that defended the way they defended today can win a national title. If you think their lack of depth, post presence and interior defense cannot win six games in March, there’s some validity to that.

What I am here to tell you is that these last four days should not change your opinion of them.

Winning on the road in league play is hard, and Duke learned that the hard way this week.