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College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25

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source: Getty Images
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1. Florida (29-2, LW: No. 1): There is no National Title favorite this season. This isn’t like 2012, when Kentucky won it all, or 2009, when everyone had North Carolina winning the title. There isn’t even a team like Louisville from last season. But if I had to bet my life on one team making a run to the Final Four, it would be Florida. They just don’t have any exploitable weaknesses.

2. Wichita State (34-0, LW: No. 2): 34-0. They did it.

RELATED: See the latest NBCSports.com Bracketology

3. Arizona (28-3, LW: No. 3): The Wildcats lost at Oregon this week, but that doesn’t change my opinion of Arizona for the time being. The Ducks are streaking and winning the second leg of a Pac-12 road weekend is never an easy thing to do.

4. Villanova (28-3, LW: No. 9): The Wildcats might be the nation’s most underrated team. They have just three losses on the season and they won the Big East regular season title by three full games. If the conference added anyone other than Creighton, Jay Wright’s club might be undefeated in league play right now.

5. Louisville (26-5, LW: No. 10): The Cardinals are the No. 2 team in the country, according to KenPom, and are one of just four teams to be ranked in the top 15 in offensive and defensive efficiency.

6. Kansas (23-8, LW: No. 4): The Jayhawks will be one of the favorites to win the title … if Joel Embiid can get healthy.

7. Virginia (26-5, LW: No. 6): The Cavaliers lost at Maryland on Sunday, which was just their second loss of the ACC season.

8. Syracuse (27-4, LW: No. 8): After losing to Georgia Tech on Tuesday, Syracuse suddenly looked like the Syracuse of January, smacking around Florida State in Tallahassee.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s 2014 College Basketball All-American team

9. Duke (24-7, LW: No. 5): The Blue Devils followed up an embarrassing loss at Wake Forest by pounding North Carolina in Cameron in their final regular season game.

10. Michigan (23-7, LW: No. 13): The Wolverines are outright Big Ten champs, but can they play their way into a No. 1 seed? It will take a Big Ten tournament title to make that happen.

11. San Diego State (27-3, LW: No. 11)
12. Creighton (24-6, LW: No. 7)
13. Wisconsin (25-6, LW: No. 12)
14. Cincinnati (26-5, LW: No. 14)
15. Iowa State (23-7, LW: No. 15)
16. North Carolina (23-8, LW: No. 16)
17. New Mexico (24-6, LW: No. 20)
18. UConn (24-7, LW: No. 17)
19. Memphis (23-8, LW: No. 18)
20. Michigan State (23-7, LW: No. 21)
21. Oklahoma (23-8, LW: No. 24)
22. Saint Louis (26-5, LW: No. 19)
23. SMU (23-8, LW: No. 22)
24. Texas (22-9, LW: No. 23)
25. VCU (24-7, LW: No. 25)

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.