Team of the Week: Duke Blue Devils
This is my opportunity to riff a little bit on the season that Duke has had thus far. Simply put, there is no way that Duke can be ranked any lower than second in your ballot, and they probably deserve quite a few first place votes. Why? Well, they’ve now beaten two of the top three teams heading into the season — Kentucky and Louisville — and supported that with quality wins over VCU and Minnesota. I still think Indiana is the best team in the country, and they’ve done nothing to prove otherwise so I’ll keep them there for now, but the Blue Devils have made a strong case for the top spot.
That said, three of their four wins have an asterisk. Kentucky was without Ryan Harrow and playing their second game of the season. Louisville was without Gorgui Dieng, who broke his wrist against VCU. Minnesota was playing with half of Trevor Mbakwe. There’s nothing Duke can do about that, they can only beat the team that’s on the floor in front but it is worth noting.
Now let me be clear: this isn’t meant as a shot at Duke. They’ve been much more impressive than I thought they would be this season. Mason Plumlee has looked like a top five pick. Seth Curry’s toughness and leadership is invaluable. Quinn Cook has been a revelation at the point, and Rasheed Sulaimon is one of the most underrated freshman in the country right now. Seth Davis made a great point over the weekend that Duke is a veteran team that has roles established early in the season, meaning that they are more prepared to play in November than a team like Kentucky.
It’s too early to make any conclusions other than this: the Blue Devils are playing the best basketball in the country as of November 26th.
Teams Deserving of a Shoutout
Cincinnati: The Bearcats had a strong showing out in Vegas this weekend, as they beat both Iowa State and Oregon, who was fresh off of an upset of UNLV in the Thomas & Mack Center. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright look like they might be the best back court duo in the Big East outside of Louisville.
Colorado State: So the Rams are now 4-0 on the season, with wins over Big Sky favorite Montana at home and WAC contender Denver and Washington on the road. Not many teams anywhere in the country, regardless of conference affiliation, can boast three wins of that caliber. More importantly, Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson is averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 boards. Watch out, MWC.
Illinois: The Illini almost blew their impressive performance out in Maui, needing to be saved by a last-second Tyler Griffey three against Gardner-Webb, but I’ll gladly chalk that game up to jet-lag and the distraction that comes with missing holiday time with family. On the island, Illinois beat USC by 30 and, after rolling over Chaminade, beat down a Butler team that was fresh off of a blowout win over North Carolina. This looks like a different team under John Groce.
Wichita State: VCU looked terrific despite going 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, to the point that they may be the best 3-3 team that I can remember. The other loss the Rams have? To Wichita State. At home. And after the Shockers rolled through the Cancun Challenge, capped off by a win over an improved Iowa team, this looks like a group that could end up legitimately challenging Creighton in the Missouri Valley.
Alaska Anchorage: For the seventh time in the history of the program, UAA finished in fourth-place at the Great Alaska shootout. How did they manage that? By beating both UC-Riverside and Loyola Marymount. The win over UCR isn’t a major surprise, but LMU is one of the better teams in the WCC with one of the best point guards on the west coast in Anthony Ireland. Impressive work from the Seawolves.
Who else was good?: Cal, Gonzaga, Oregon