For the first time in more than six years, the Duke Blue Devils are ranked lower than 10th in latest Associated Press Top 25 Rankings. This is just one of the latest shakeups in college basketball after a weekend full of conference upsets. Duke is just one of the few victims of the first official weekend of conference play.
Across the country a total of five top 25 teams lost this week to unranked opponents, four of which lost on the road and one at home. It wasn’t just ranked teams losing, however, as a number of other top-ranked teams (Arizona and Syracuse) were strongly tested but managed to come away with victories and one conference game pitted the lower ranked Top 25 team (Colorado) coming away with a crucial home victory against the higher ranked opponent (Oregon). Overcoming conference adversity is one step in becoming a national title contender. Some were able to face that adversity head on and succeed while others faced it and have found they still have work to do.
The Connecticut Huskies have been exposed. After a strong start to the season, including their last-second victory over the Florida Gators, UConn has started conference play 0-2 and lost three of their last five game. They have yet to find an identity as a team that doesn’t include Shabazz Napier being the only offensive option but even that appears to not be enough to win games. In the road loss to SMU, Napier was held to 12 points on 2-for-9 shooting while in the loss to Houston Napier scored 27 points but wasn’t enough for the Huskies to earn a victory.
UConn needs to find out who their second scoring option is because as they get further into conference play when they start playing the top competition the AAC has to offer, defenses are going to lock down on Napier on defense and make him obsolete. Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun are going to have to step up in a big way to complete their backcourt scoring trio. Boatright is having a decent season but hasn’t shown up in games where Napier has been shut down. If the Huskies want to improve on the season they need to find another go-to scorer besides Napier.
Also in the AAC, Memphis felt the pain of a conference loss as they failed to overcome the stingy defense of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinatti held the normally potent Tiger offense to 53 points on 33 percent shooting from the field and 11 percent from 3-point range. Memphis averages 80.3 points a game, so that shows you how locked in the Bearcats were on defense. Sean Kilpatrick led the way for Cincinnati with 18 points.
Memphis, complete with one of the deepest backcourts in the nation, couldn’t overcome a strong defensive effort and let the Bearcats run away with the game late in the second half. The loss cost the Tigers a ranking in the latest polls, falling from 18 to 24, even being left off of some ballots all together. Two of the top teams in the AAC have felt the pain of conference play but Memphis gets a shot at redemption as they travel to Louisville for one of their toughest remaining games of the season.
Oklahoma State, whose only loss of the season came against Memphis, also felt the agony of defeat as they lost a highly contested road game against the Kansas State Wildcats, 74-71. Marcus Smart was held in check by Kansas State as he dropped 15 points on only 6-of-14 shooting. Not a bad stat line but the Cowboys needed just one more basket out of Smart and this whole story would’ve been different.
The Cowboys have time to redeem themselves and get back on the winning path. Two losses is nothing to be ashamed of and winning on the road in conference is a difficult thing to do. Smart and Oklahoma State don’t have to worry right now but they need to make sure not to let this one loss get to them.
North Carolina has once again found themselves on the outside of the AP rankings as they dropped another game against a ranked team, this time on the road to Wake Forest. The biggest flaw with the Tar Heels in their previous three losses was lack of free throw shooting. In the first three losses it was not hitting enough of their attempts. Against Wake Forest it was not getting to the free throw line enough, shooting only 11 attempts as compared to 33 for the Demon Deacons.
UNC is still a good team but they’re going to struggle this season at times. They’re not as potent as they use to be, but there’s enough talent to challenge for the ACC title and perhaps make a run to the Sweet 16 as well. Losses like this are going to happen but it’s not the end of the world.
And to top it all off, Duke found themselves on the losing end on the road against Notre Dame. This loss is a bit troubling because the Fighting Irish recently had to suspend their top player, Jerian Grant, due to academic reasons. A lot of questions surrounded them as they tried to find out who would be their top player moving forward. Notre Dame won by a combination of Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Garrick Sherman. If Notre Dame is going to succeed without their top player they are going to need contributions from more than one player. It’s going to take a collective effort and the Fighting Irish used that to down Duke in their ACC debut.
For Duke, their freshman star Jabari Parker had his worst game of the season, playing in only 24 minutes while scoring only seven points on 2-for-10 shooting, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range. Parker’s performance was so troubling coach Mike Krzyzewksi sat the freshman for the final few minutes of what turned out to be a 77-74 defeat for the Blue Devils. Rodney Hood played a great game without Parker’s contributions, dropping in 27 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including 5-for-10 from the 3-point line.
Parker had his first experience in struggling. He came crashing back down to earth and had to watch his team fail to bring the team back at the end of the game for the win. This will be used as a learning experience as Krzyzewski may have wanted the freshman sensation to be humbled a bit. How Parker responds after this will determine what will define his college career and the legacy he leaves at Duke before venturing off to the NBA.
All-in-all we have now been able to witness just how crazy conference play can be. Winning on the road in you conference is an extremely difficult thing to do and four teams in the Top 25 learned that the hard way against unranked opponents. This is the first go-around for what’s sure to be a great conference season in college basketball.