What’s real and what’s fake a month into college basketball season


A month of action has unfolded in college basketball’s 2018-19 campaign.

The Champions Classic — where Kansas beat Michigan State, and Duke handed Kentucky‘s John Calipari the worst loss of his career — and the Maui Invitational — where Gonzaga upset the Blue Devils — established the preliminary hierarchy.

A collection of upsets and early stalls for teams most viewed as contenders prompted other questions about the current landscape, and surprising starts made us wonder if we’d failed to accurately analyze some teams entering the season.

That’s why we’re here to help you sort through the wheat and the chaff. What’s real and what’s fake in the game right now? We’ll tell you in our weekly take on college basketball.

What’s fake?

Duke is overrated, so let’s stop talking about them

Since Mike Krzyzewski’s crew lost to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational last month in the best game of the season thus far, the buzz about the Blue Devils has simmered. It took only one loss for folks to proclaim that the team once presented as a potential challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a candidate for the first undefeated season since Indiana in 1975-76 had lost its edge. How’d we go from “Who can stop Duke?” to “What’s wrong with Duke?” after a two-point loss to a Gonzaga team that can win the national title? Welcome to college basketball in early December, when exaggerations aren’t just accepted but preferred.

But ignore the smoke. Duke is legit.

Duke entered the week as the only team in KenPom.com’s rankings that’s in the top five of both adjusted defensive and offensive efficiency. The last three teams that maintained a top-five mark in both categories — Kansas in 2007-08, Duke in 2009-10 and Villanova in 2015-16 — all won national titles. Sure, the sample size is small, but the Blue Devils have already faced three top-10 teams.

RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish are averaging a combined 60.2 points per game. We’ve never had a team with that level of athleticism at three spots in the one-and-done era.

Tre Jones, perhaps America’s best point guard, is dropping six dimes per game. Duke averages 131 points per 100 possessions, makes 44 percent of its 3-pointers and rebounds nearly half its missed shots when he’s on the floor, per hooplens.com.

Yeah, the Blue Devils are a flawed team. They’re not making their free throws. They’re up-and-down from the 3-point line. But damn, they’re good.

Could they beat the Cavs or the Fab Five? Who knows? And really, who cares? This Duke squad is unlike anything we’ve witnessed in modern college basketball. Nothing overrated about this team. That’s why we’re talking about the Blue Devils, and why we’ll continue to talk about them.

Louis King will fix everything for Oregon

Against Houston on Saturday, the Ducks committed 16 turnovers in a 65-61 loss. They were down 33-13 in the first half. Yeah, they fought back — but it was the third loss of the season for a team that was picked to win the Pac-12.

Oregon looks sloppy right now, both offensively and defensively. King, the five-star freshman set to return from a knee injury this month, will help. But he might not fix the bigger issues within this program: Oregon has an “effort” problem, and it’s also a turnover machine. The Ducks were listless against Houston before halftime. They got bullied by a determined Houston team the same way they were outplayed by ambitious Texas Southern and Iowa teams.

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