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NBC Sports Top 25: Duke back to No. 1, Tennessee hops Gonzaga

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Here’s the conundrum that is going to face voters in the top 25 this week: What do you do with Kansas?

When it comes to resume, Kansas probably has the strongest one of any team in the top seven. They’ve beaten Michigan State on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Tennessee on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Marquette on a neutral court. Every win they have in Phog Allen Fieldhouse this year comes against teams ranked in the top 135 on KenPom.

And then there is this: Kansas has beaten Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Gonzaga. Gonzaga has beaten Duke. Duke, according to some, can beat the Cavs, which officially means that Kansas is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Or something like that.

The point is that it makes total sense to rank Kansas No. 1 based on what they’ve accomplished this season, but I think that even the most irrational Kansas fans will cop to the fact that these Jayhawks haven’t come close to hitting their stride yet this season, and that’s before you factor in the loss of Udoka Azuibuike to an ankle injury.

The difference between the top seven teams this season is marginal, particularly if you are not as high on Duke as I am, and while that means there really isn’t all that much difference between Nevada at No. 7 and whoever it is that you are going to rank No. 1, it does mean that a team like Kansas — who is in a bad run of form — drops to sixth in this ranking.

And to be frank, as long as your top seven is, in some order, the same as my top seven, your ranking is probably going to be just fine. I’d quibble with ranking Nevada in the top four, and I think it’s probably silly to have Duke, Tennessee or Gonzaga outside the top four, but there are arguments to justify it all. I’m sure Kansas fans will call me a Duke homer and say that Bill Self must ignore my calls, but the truth of it is that there are a lot of really good teams at the top this year. Parsing through a jumbled mess like that is never easy.

I dropped Kentucky all the way out of the top 25, as I did Kansas State, but I’ll go more in depth on that in the Monday Overreactions column.

Here is the full top 25:

1. Duke (9-1, Last week: 2)
2. Michigan (10-0, 3)
3. Tennessee (7-1, 6)
4. Gonzaga (9-1, 1)
5. Virginia (9-0, 4)
6. Kansas (8-0, 5)
7. Nevada (10-0, 7)
8. Auburn (8-1, 8)
9. North Carolina (7-2, 9)
10. Florida State (8-1, 10)
11. Texas Tech (8-0, 11)
12. Michigan State (8-2, 13)
13. Virginia Tech (8-1, 14)
14. Wisconsin (8-2, 15)
15. N.C. State (8-1, 17)
16. Ohio State (8-1, 19)
17. Arizona State (7-1, 20)
18. Purdue (6-4, 18)
19. Villanova (8-2, UR)
20. Syracuse (7-2, UR)
21. Marquette (8-2, UR)
22. Buffalo (9-0, UR)
23. Mississippi State (8-1, 25)
24. Iowa (7-2, 23)
25. Nebraska (8-2, 24)

New Additions: 19. Villanova, 20 Syracuse, 21. Marquette
Dropped Out: 12. Kentucky, 16. Kansas State, 21. Creighton

No. 3 Duke wins 4th straight, beats Yale 91-58

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DURHAM, N.C. — Freshman RJ Barrett had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and No. 3 Duke blew the game open in the second half to beat Yale 91-58 on Saturday.

Fellow rookie Zion Williamson had 20 points for the Blue Devils, who led 41-32 at halftime but hit their first six shots after the break to finally stretch out the lead. Duke (9-1) shot 57 percent after halftime and 49 percent overall for its fourth straight win.

Duke also got a scare when freshman point guard Tre Jones came up limping with an apparent left leg injury, which sidelined him for nearly all of the final 14 minutes. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Jones took a hit in the quad and might have also banged knees with someone but should be OK.

Miye Oni had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs (4-3) before fouling out.

BIG PICTURE

Yale: The Bulldogs already had two power-conference wins, first by beating California in the Pac-12 China game to open the season and then by beating Miami on Dec. 1. But they couldn’t add another win to that total despite hanging within reach throughout the first half. Yale shot just 35 percent and finished with 23 turnovers that the Blue Devils converted into 24 points.

Duke: The Blue Devils head into an extended exam break off yet another lopsided win. They had their only true tests in the Maui Invitational, where they beat No. 8 Auburn by six before losing to now-No. 1 Gonzaga in the title game. Otherwise, they haven’t played a game closer than 21 points, including that dazzling opening-night romp against Kentucky. The Blue Devils also put up another big offensive total despite making just 5 of 21 3-pointers.

Top five prospect Vernon Carey commits to Duke

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Vernon Carey Jr. announced on Thursday afternoon that he has committed to play his college ball at Duke.

Carey is a consensus top three prospect in the class, and there are some outlets that consider Carey to be the best prospect in the 2019.

A burly, 6-foot-10 left-handed post presence, Carey has is a physical prospect with the strength you would expect from the son of an NFL offensive lineman. Keeping weight off is going to be something that will be a key for him in the long-term — he was a star at the Peach Jam in July after he shed more than 20 pounds during the spring — not only because he has a body-type that can hold quite a bit of weight easily, but because he isn’t blessed with the kind of physical gifts that a lot of the highly-regarded big men these days are.

He doesn’t have an overwhelming wingspan and he isn’t the kind of quick-twitch athlete that Marvin Bagley III or Zion Williamson are. What he is is a dominant low-post scorer with terrific hands, a knack for rebounding and a nice touch around the basket that he has extended out to the three-point line.

We wrote about why Carey is the best player in this class from Peach Jam.

Carey joins top 30 prospects Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Wednesday’s Things To Know: Texas drops third straight, Amir Coffey shines for Minnesota and Fran Dunphy faces Villanova for final time

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There wasn’t a game between ranked opponents Wednesday evening, but the night wasn’t without drama or excitement. Any night in which  Zion Williamson throws an alley-oop off the backboard to R.J. Barrett is a good night. Here’s what else you need to know from Wednesday’s action.

TEXAS IN TROUBLE?

There weren’t exactly monumental expectations for Texas coming into this season. Still, with Kerwin Roach, Dylan Osetkowski, Matt Coleman and Jericho Sims all back, the idea was the Longhorns would be pretty good. At least good enough to keep mentions of Shaka Smart’s 50-50 record in three seasons in Austin to a minimum. That theory is being tested early.

Texas lost its third-consecutive game Wednesday, the second-straight at home to a mid-major, with Smart’s former program, VCU, outlasting the Longhorns 54-53 at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns lost to Michigan State, no shame there, to start this slide, but after a loss to Radford and now the Rams, both of whom ranked outside the KenPom top-100, there is a bit of reason for alarm.

The Longhorns’ shooting is abysmal with a 28.9 percent mark from 3-point range and an effective field goal percentage of 47. They’re giving up a ton of offensive rebounds with opponents grabbing 31.7 percent of their misses, a rather astounding number for a team giving Osetkowski, Sims and Jaxon Hayes big minutes in the frontcourt. It also seems like some frustration may be setting in:

 

Texas is playing good defense – KenPom has them at 11th in adjusted D – and there is plenty of time to get things right, but Purdue is looming Saturday so things may get uglier before they get better. And both Texas and Smart have to hope things do eventually get better.

 

AMIR COFFEY SHINES IN GOPHERS WIN ON EMOTIONAL NIGHT

Amir Coffey looked like a star in the making for Minnesota after a freshman season in which the 6-foot-8 Hopkins, Minn. native and son of a former Gopher averaged 12.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. However, a shoulder injury robbed him of the second half of his sophomore season, the second major injury of his career after he broke his leg and tore his ACL in high school. Given that, it was probably fair to wonder what type of player would return to Williams Arena.

The junior looked like a superstar Wednesday as he scored a career-high 32 points while tallying six rebounds and six assists as the Gophers erased a double-digit second-half deficit to beat No. 24 Nebraska, 85-78, in Minneapolis.

It was unquestionably a breakout game for Coffey, who had played well for much of the season to this point, but had produced nothing like this, topping a personal-best in the scoring department that he set as a freshman.

It was a major win for the Gophers, who were on the cusp of losing for the third time in four games and starting the Big Ten slate 0-2. It was especially important – and poignant – as Gopher guard Dupree McBrayer played while mourning the death of his mother, Tayra, who died Monday after a battle with cancer.

PHILLY FAREWELL

Temple has a full season to go, but there was a sort of finale Wednesday for coach Fran Dunphy, who is retiring at the end of the season. He coached his final game against Villanova, a 69-59 loss to rival Philadelphia school and reigning national champions.

The Owls haven’t beaten Jay Wright’s program since 2012, but neither has any other Big 5 team. Temple was the last to do it, exactly six years ago to the day.

Villanova seems to have righted the ship after a rocky couple days in November in which Michigan blasted them by 26 and Furman beat them by eight in OT with both games coming at home. SInce, they’ve won five-straight, including wins against Oklahoma State and Florida State on neutral courts. They’ve got St. Joe’s and Penn before a big showdown with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 15.

R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson lead No. 3 Duke past Hartford, 84-54

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DURHAM, N.C. — Freshman RJ Barrett had 27 points and a season-best 15 rebounds, and No. 3 Duke pulled away to rout Hartford 84-54 on Wednesday night.

Zion Williamson added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Tre Jones and Javin Delaurier finished with 10 points apiece to help the Blue Devils (8-1) win their third straight. Duke shot 62 percent in the second half to more than make up for hitting just five 3-pointers — matching a season low.

J.R. Lynch scored 13 points and Jason Dunne added 12 for Hartford (3-7), a 38-point underdog that hung around well into the second half before fading. Dunne’s long 3-pointer pulled the Hawks within eight points with just over 12 minutes left.

Williamson then hit two free throws, Jack White followed with a steal and dunk and Cameron Reddish — who had missed all six of his 3-pointers to that point — buried a 3 in transition to give the Blue Devils their largest lead to that point at 54-39. Duke rolled from there for its fifth blowout in five home games.

BIG PICTURE

Hartford: There was plenty for the Hawks to build on in this one, and they acquitted themselves much better than their No. 215 Pomeroy ranking — or the final score — might indicate. Their zone defense flummoxed the Blue Devils on the perimeter and their hustle kept them in the game for roughly 30 minutes.

Duke: The margin of victory would indicate otherwise, but for much of this one, very little came easy for the Blue Devils — four nights after everything seemed that way in a 64-point rout of Stetson. It’ll look like a blowout in the box score, but coach Mike Krzyzewski will no doubt find plenty of teachable moments during the film review.

Zion Williamson throws alley-oop off the backboard to R.J. Barrett in Duke blowout win

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Usually it’s Zion Williamson on the receiving end of alley-oops, and it’s his dunks that make for the best Duke highlights. Not this time, though.

The Duke star spread the wealth to fellow freshman and expected top-five draft pick R.J. Barrett on Wednesday when he passed the ball off the backboard in transition for one of the more cinematic alley-oops you’ll see this season.

Not bad for a couple of rookies.

Duke beat Hartford, 84-54, at Cameron Indoor with Barrett going for 27 points, 15 rebounds and four assists while Williamson had 18 points and 12 boards.

Some pretty impressive lines, but that dunk, oh boy that dunk, is really all you needed to see from this one.