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Is Duke a great team that’s figuring things out or a bad team that’s been clutch?

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I think it’s time for us to have a conversation about No. 1 Duke.

The Blue Devils are, rightfully, the No. 1 team in the country.

They are undefeated on the season with wins over Michigan State, Florida and Texas as well as Wednesday night’s victory over Indiana in a raucous and rowdy Assembly Hall.

They’re 9-0 on the season, and two of the guys on their roster are going to be in the mix for All-American, if not National Player of the Year, come season’s end.

And yet, if you’ve watched these games, you’ve probably come away feeling a little unsure about this team. After all, they looked like the No. 1 team in the country for all of about 20 minutes during the PK-80, when they erased a 16-point second half deficit against Texas and a 17-point second half deficit against Florida.

They never really looked like a title challenger against Indiana, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, and it took an out-of-body experience from Grayson Allen for the Blue Devils to put away Michigan State.

I was joined by myself on Thursday to talk through everything Duke, from the travel to the defense to how much you can trust a team that seems to only win games late.

ME: In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue against just how impressive Duke’s wins are. Florida is a Final Four team. Michigan State can win a national title. Texas has shown second weekend upside. I don’t care how bad Indiana will be this season, getting a win in that arena and in that atmosphere in the first true road game for a team where eight of the nine rotation players are either freshmen or seldomly-used sophomores is not easy to do.

But the way Duke went about getting those wins is a major red flag. How can you trust a team that consistently digs themselves a hole? How can you trust a team that hasn’t proven they can defend for 40 minutes? It’s great that they’ve been able to flip a switch and turn into their best selves with five minutes left, but why can’t Coach K get them to play like that for 40 minutes instead of five minutes?

ALSO ME: Those are valid concerns, and I’m not sure that there is anyone saying they aren’t. But what you have to remember with this group is that they are young. They are inexperienced. There are some issues with depth that have yet to be addressed. Sometimes it takes freshmen a while to learn how to play at the college level and that’s what we’re seeing with Duke, except that they aren’t losing games while doing, at least not yet. Of course they’re not a finished product three weeks into the season, so I’m more pleased about the fact that they have guys that can find a way to win even when things aren’t going right than I am worried about how freshmen look like freshmen.

ME AGAIN: But have the freshmen really looked like freshmen? The four in the starting lineup are all averaging at least 12.8 points. Marvin Bagley III is putting up 22 and 11. Wendell Carter, the “other” freshman big man, is putting up 13 points, nine boards and 2.3 blocks a night. Trevon Duval is averaging 13 points and six assists despite the fact that he cannot shoot. Even Gary Trent Jr., who has probably had the most underwhelming start of any of the four, has made a habit of making critical, winning plays.

So who actually looks like a freshmen?

HELLO. IT’S ME: All of them, once you get past the counting stats.

BACK TO THE FIRST ME: So Marvin Bagley III, National Player of the Year front runner, is playing like a freshman? Are you off your meds?

ME NO. 2: Yes, but that’s neither here nor there.

Bagley has been dominant, there is no question about that, but acting like he’s played flawless basketball is kind of silly. He gets worn out during games, although some of that has to do with how hard Duke rides him. He was exhausted for long stretches against Indiana and decided that getting back in transition defense was optional. That’s what freshmen do. Veterans either get back or sub themselves out to get a breather.

And he’s not alone there. Duke’s man-to-man defense is a mess. Their zone isn’t all that much better. KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric ranks Duke as the nation’s 46th-best defense, but that isn’t telling the whole story. KenPom’s formula is still using some predictive elements from last season’s team, and if you look at Duke’s raw defensive numbers, they ranks 102nd in points-per-possession allowed. They don’t force turnovers and they don’t get defensive rebounds. That combination is less-than-ideal, and it’s the biggest reason the Blue Devils keep putting together these slow starts.

They can’t get stops. It happens with freshmen-laden teams.

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ORIGINAL ME: And what is it about the way that Duke has defended over the course of the last four or five seasons that leads you to believe that they are going to be able to figure this thing out by the time March rolls around? Only once since 2011 has Duke finished as a top 25 defense, according to KenPom, and that came the year that they won the national title, when they entered the ACC tournament as a defense ranked outside the top 60.

OTHER ME: That certainly is a concern, but since the season started, tell me when Coach K has actually had a chance to regroup and find a way to fix what ails Duke.

I’ll wait.

They played nine games in 19 days. They’ve traveled to Chicago. They played three games in four days in Portland — including a title game that ended at 1 a.m. ET Monday morning — before heading to Bloomington for a Wednesday tip in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When have they had the time to get on their practice court and solve their problems? They haven’t.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that these kids have been run into the ground by now. Bagley played at last 38 minutes in each of the last three games. Allen played all 40 minutes in the last two games and like would have against Texas if he didn’t get into foul trouble. Duval has topped 35 minutes in each of the last four games. Other than Carter, who seems to be physically incapable of staying out of foul trouble, Trent is the starter getting the most rest and he’s still clocked more than 33 minutes a night over the course of the last four games.

I just don’t think you can truly judge them until they’re back onto a relatively normal schedule.

FIRST ME: I get that, but if the issue really was that they were exhausted, wouldn’t that mean that Duke died at the end of these hard-fought, competitive games? If their legs are shot, explain this stat: In the final five minutes (and overtime) of Duke’s last three games, the Blue Devils have held Texas, Florida and Indiana to a combined 5-for-25 shooting and outscored them 56-19.

At the end of games.

At the end of an insane two weeks of travel.

After their best players have played 30-35 minutes already that night.

And you’re going to try and tell me that the reason they start slow is that they are too tired? It’s too early to have started drinking.

(Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

FINAL ME: It’s never too early for that, but no, that’s not what I’m saying.

My point is that the way Duke’s first three weeks have played out makes it difficult to truly get a grasp on who they are. Maybe they are a bad defensive team that has been bailed out by the fact that their front line is utterly unstoppable. Maybe they’re a good defensive team that just has to spent a couple of days at practice tweaking what clearly hasn’t been working to date. We don’t actually have an answer yet.

And we won’t until their schedule normalizes.

But at the end of the day, this is a team with two potential all-americans, five or six potential NBA players and a 9-0 record with four impressive wins that they didn’t necessarily play well enough to get.

If they can overcome adversity while still trying to figure things out, if they’re learning lessons without taking losses, the only thing I keep asking myself is what this team will be if and when they do put it all together?

Scary, that’s what.

ME: Whatever. You’re still an idiot.

Rutgers lands upset win over No. 15 Seton Hall

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Corey Sanders scored 22 points and Deshawn Freeman added 12 points and 16 boards as Rutgers landed the biggest win of the Steve Pikiell era to date, erasing a 13-point deficit to knock off in-state rival No. 15 Seton Hall, 71-65.

The Scarlet Knights finished the game on a 17-2 run over the final six minutes of the game, answering a 9-0 Seton Hall run that put the Pirates up 63-54. Rutgers did not lead until a free throw from Sanders with 2:22 left put them up 64-63.

The win was the first for Rutgers over Seton Hall in four tries, roughly the time frame that the Pirates have been relevant nationally, and it is precisely what Pikiell needed to continue building a program in Piscataway. Rutgers is now 10-3 on the season, but their three losses have all come to teams are in – or getting votes in – the top 25: Florida State, at Minnesota and Michigan State. As the saying goes, it isn’t really a rivalry until both teams have a chance to win the game, and this win proves just that.

But that’s not the only reason to be bullish on this program. Rutgers is also starting to recruit a little bit better. They sold out the RAC for this game.

He still has a long way to go, and building something out of nothing in the Big Ten is never going to be simple, but Pikiell has this thing going in the right direction.

As far as the Pirates are concerned, there is some reason to be worried here. A team with this kind of veteran presence should not be getting rattled and blowing leads down the stretch. Khadeen Carrington, who is making the adjustment to playing the point this season, was 4-for-17 from the floor with five turnovers, and he struggled to make plays when Seton Hall needed them in the final minutes. Angel Delgado finished just 3-for-9 from the floor.

I’m not sure this is the kind of situation where you need to be worried about their long-term prospects, but it is something to monitor.

No. 17 Purdue takes down Butler in Crossroads Classic

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The annual Crossroads Classic opened with No. 17 Purdue running past Butler for a solid 82-67 win on Saturday afternoon. The Boilermakers continued a recent strong stretch of play with another road or neutral win against a power-conference opponent.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Purdue is the second best team in the Big Ten (and the gap might be growing).

The Big Ten is a mess so far. Only Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are 2-0 in league play. The Buckeyes aren’t expected to maintain their surprising hot start. Obviously, others in the Big Ten like Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern could all be dangerous. But those four teams have also been underwhelming and have a lot of glaring holes.

For the current moment, Purdue (11-2) clearly looks like the second best team in the Big Ten. And the gap seems to be getting wider during a seven-game winning streak. Outside of a weird two-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Boilermakers have put together a solid stretch that now includes road or neutral wins over Arizona, Maryland and Butler in the last few weeks.

Purdue has experience, unique size with 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, and capable perimeter shooters who can space the floor. The Boilermakers have good defenders at multiple positions. They outplayed Butler in nearly every facet of the game during a solid win on Saturday. Carsen Edwards (18 points) has matured as a solid leading scorer and plenty of players around him are double-figure scorers.

Butler isn’t likely to be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team, but they’re a solid postseason-caliber group that the Boilermakers made look silly for much of the game. Purdue knows itself. The Boilermakers know their personnel and they’re a veteran group. There’s a lot to like about Purdue at this point in the season.

2. Butler struggles mightily against length

Butler’s offense couldn’t get much of anything going on Saturday. The Bulldogs were ice-cold from the perimeter (7-for-22 from three-point range) and they didn’t fare much better when they tried to go inside (26-for-69).

The Bulldogs haven’t been a very good perimeter team in general this season — entering Saturday’s game with only 31 percent three-point shooting — and those problems were very apparent against Purdue. Without an ability to space the floor, attackers like Kelan Martin (15 points) and Kamar Baldwin (13 points) struggled to get anything going with the drive as the Boilermakers had a great defensive game plan to limit Butler’s looks. Senior big man Tyler Wideman (seven points) also had a hard time finishing over the length of players like Haas and Haarms at the rim.

Paul Jorgenson (15 points) had a big second half and he has been solid at times this season as a floor-spacing threat. The Bulldogs need more help for him on the outside. Sean McDermott has been labeled as a perimeter specialist, but he’s also returning from a recent injury and the Bulldogs are slowly bringing him back.

Butler’s offense is at its best when they can rely on Martin and Baldwin to attack. That wasn’t even close to the case on Saturday as both struggled to get going. It meant Butler didn’t stand much of a chance.

3. Purdue has some late-game turnover issues

Purdue has been generally solid with closing out games this season but they weren’t able to do so against Butler on Saturday.

It looked like the Boilermakers were going to cruise to an easy win before turnovers became an issue and Butler crept back in this one. While Purdue maintained most of its defensive intensity, its offense took a foot off the gas as Butler’s aggressiveness defending on the perimeter led to 18 Boilermaker turnovers.

Purdue is great at closing out games from the free-throw line if they need to. But their ball handlers need to limit turnovers and continue to run good offense if they build up a lead.

Purdue had trouble at times defending late leads last season. They’re now 10-0 this season when they have a halftime lead. Could this be an issue that comes back once again? It doesn’t seem likely but the second half on Saturday brought some ugly flashbacks.

VIDEO: Miami’s Lonnie Walker skies for ridiculous putback dunk

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Miami freshman guard Lonnie Walker timed this one perfectly.

The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American came from across the floor to hammer home a left-handed putback on Saturday as Walker showed why many consider him to be a potential one-and-done prospect.

After a career-high 26 points in a win over Boston on Tuesday, it appears that Walker might be gaining confidence as ACC season approaches.

VIDEO: Memphis’ Jimario Rivers catches lob on Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud

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Memphis senior forward Jimario Rivers caught a tough one-handed alley-oop on Saturday as Louisville senior big man Anas Mahmoud found himself on the receiving end.

This is one of the better lobs we’ve seen this season. Rivers got way up there for this one.

Northern Colorado basketball placed on probation by NCAA

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA placed the University of Northern Colorado men’s basketball program on three years’ probation among other sanctions Friday after finding academic fraud and recruiting violations by ex-coach B.J. Hill and some of his assistants.

The violations by Hill and eight members of his staff over a four-year span included completing coursework for prospects, paying for classes prospects needed to become academically eligible and arranging off-campus practice sessions with an academically ineligible student-athlete.

In addition to probation, penalties in the case include a one-year postseason ban (already served) for the men’s basketball team; a financial penalty; scholarship and recruiting restrictions; and a vacation of records.

Seven coaches received “show cause” orders, including a six-year penalty for the head coach, five years for two assistant coaches, four years for another assistant coach and three years for two assistant coaches and the graduate assistant. During the show cause periods, if an NCAA school hires the coach, that school must demonstrate why restrictions on the coach’s athletically related duties should not apply.

The NCAA concurred with the university’s self-imposed one-year postseason ban last season, a reduction of three scholarships and recruiting restrictions. Also, the school must return all proceeds from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance.

The rules violations spanned four years under Hill, a first-time head coach who personally completed coursework for a prospect and enlisted an athletic director to do the same, the NCAA found.

The NCAA said Hill recruited ineligible players, then broke rules to get them on the court.

Hill was fired last year when the NCAA began looking into the violations. He had gone 86-98 with two postseason appearances in six seasons after taking over the program in 2010 following a stint as an assistant in Greeley to current Colorado coach Tad Boyle.

The NCAA commended the university for its “exemplary cooperation” in the case and said Hill “admitted that he failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff.”

The panel said two assistant coaches violated ethical conduct rules for lying to investigators and a third failed to cooperate with the probe.