Aaron Craft, Mason Plumlee

Duke’s comeback win adds to their resume, Plumlee’s POY candidacy

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You want to talk about impressive wins?

No. 2 Duke’s come-from-behind, 72-68 win over No. 4 Ohio State on Wednesday night was impressive for much more than the simple fact that the Blue Devils beat the No. 4 team in the country despite being outplayed for about the first 28 minutes of the game.

Three days ago, the Blue Devils were in the Bahamas, beating then-No. 2 Louisville for the Battle 4 Atlantis title, an event that required Duke to win three games in three days over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s tough enough, but Duke isn’t exactly a normal team right now. They get almost no offensive production from their bench and the only reason that guys like Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston see significant minutes is because a) Seth Curry isn’t healthy and b) Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly always seem to be getting into foul trouble.

You could see it early in the game.

Duke looked a step slow to every loose ball. They were beaten on the offensive glass far too many times. Their offense looked out of sync. It looked like they were going through the motions. Sleepwalking, if you will.

That changed in the second half. It started with Quinn Cook leading the break, finding Mason Plumlee for a couple of dunks in transition (including this ridiculous lob). The Blue Devils started getting up into Ohio State defensively. All of a sudden their cuts were sharper and their shots just that much more open. Rasheen Sulaimon went off to the tune of 17 points in the second half, helping make up for the fact that Curry was banged up. Plumlee finished with 21 points and 17 boards. And Duke was still undefeated with, by far, the strongest resume in the country.

But we already knew all of this about Duke. For the last three days, we’ve been discussing whether or not the Blue Devils should have knocked Indiana out of the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

What hasn’t gotten as much publicity, however, has been the play of Mason Plumlee. Through seven games, he’s now averaging 19.9 points and 11.0 boards while shooting 65.3% from the floor and, astoundingly, 78.9% from the free throw line. And he’s done that while Duke has beaten Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State, VCU and Minnesota.

I still have Indiana as the best team in the country.

That’s not going to change until the Hoosiers do something to prove to me they aren’t as good as they looked in the second half against North Carolina.

I will, however, change my opinion on who will win the National Player of the Year award.

Right now, it has to be Plumlee. And his schedule is only going to get easier from here on out.

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

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.