College Basketball Catch-Up: Big 12 heavyweights trade blows, and can Duke make a late tournament push?

Duke’s defense continues to impress, and the clash of the last two national champions does not disappoint.

[A photo of two Duke men's basketball players guarding a Syracuse player.]

“College Basketball Catch-Up” is a column by Terence Holton discussing the latest men’s college basketball headlines.

Before I start my normal spiel of my top college basketball headlines, I would like to formally apologize to the Creighton Blue Jays and their fans for bestowing my curse upon them. For the third week in a row, the team I have picked to win their conference with my utmost confidence, has lost within a week of me saying that I trust them. To quote Taylor Swift, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.”

So from now on, I promise not to declare any team as my “favorite” to win their conference. Now let’s jump into this week’s top headlines.

Kansas vs. Baylor: A tale of two halves

No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Kansas was a matchup college basketball fans were looking forward to all week. With the stage set at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, the audience anticipated for the Jayhawks and Bears to trade blows back and forth all game, but that was not the case.

Baylor had three players in the first half combined for 42 of their 45 points: redshirt senior guard Adam Flagler, junior guard LJ Cryer and freshman guard Keyonte George. They rained threes on the Jayhawks as they combined for eight of the Bears’ nine first half threes.

Baylor led Kansas by 13 at halftime and it really seemed like it would be an impossible comeback for the Jayhawks, as they had shot 1-for 11-from three in the first half. Kansas, however, did not need the threes to comeback.

The Jayhawks completely dominated Baylor from the jump in the second half and could not be stopped offensively. Kansas started the half off on an 11-0 run in the first three minutes alone, and the rest of the game was not much different. Kansas pulled off a 29-point swing from the first half as they ended up winning the game 87-71. At one point in the second half the Jayhawks had outscored Baylor 43-18.

They say basketball is a game of runs, and this game more than proved that. In the first half, watching the game was nonstop Baylor scoring, and vice versa in the second half with Kansas going on runs of their own. Kansas just happened to make the bigger and better run.

Both teams are phenomenal, despite the second half crumble by Baylor both offensively and defensively. Kansas did the exact same thing to North Carolina last year in the national championship – you just can’t count out Kansas as long as Bill Self is at the helm.

I said I would not choose a team to win their conference, especially in the Big 12 which is by far the best conference in college basketball, but just know the Jayhawks have not missed a beat since last year.

The Duke Dilemma

Usually at this time of the season we’d be talking about if Duke will win the national championship, not if they would be a first round exit in March Madness or not. Even still, I think I am more impressed with the Blue Devils than the average fan is.

Let me make one thing clear, I do not think Duke will win the national championship, nor are they even a Final Four contender. However, I think many people are starting to underestimate them.

The Blue Devils are an incredibly underrated defensive team, and I am a big fan of teams who play good defense. The statline that jumps out at me the most is the fact that in 24 of their 27 games, the Blue Devils have held their opponent under their average scoring margin. Most recently against Syracuse, Duke held the Orange to only 55 points, which is 20 less points than their average.

I think you could argue Duke is in a rebuilding year, as they are for the first time in 44 years not being led by coach Mike Krzyzewski. They still have some of the most talent in college basketball as they had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and four five-star recruits. But still they really have not had that bad a year.

The Blue Devils have wins over No. 14 Xavier, No. 16 Miami and Iowa most notably, a controversial loss to No. 7 Virginia. They have a few bad losses including falling to a pretty bad Virginia Tech team, but five of their eight losses are to ranked teams, three of which are to top-10 teams.

So is Duke being underrated? I think yes. We as college basketball fans know Duke to be a dominant program who loses a max of four to five regular season games a year, so when we see the Blue Devils lose eight or nine games, we start to doubt if they are legit. The talent is there, they have the potential to be a Cinderella team and they 100% could win the ACC tournament.

Next week, I’m looking forward to Saturday when No. 8 Texas plays No. 9 Baylor and No. 12 Gonzaga plays No. 15 Saint Mary’s, where the winner takes the WCC regular season title.

“College Basketball Catch-Up” runs every Monday.