NCAA basketball: Duke’s NCAA Tournament hopes fleeting? Evan Mobley future No. 1 pick?

Dec 16, 2020; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Matthew Hurt (21) shoots over Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Nate Laszewski (14) in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 16, 2020; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Matthew Hurt (21) shoots over Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Nate Laszewski (14) in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports /

Duke’s struggles and a Big 12 showdown are this week’s big NCAA basketball storylines.

The college basketball season is deep into conference play, allowing teams to make statements and bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes. While schools like Texas and Michigan have surged in the early going, some traditional powers have struggled to make their mark on the season. Let’s take a look at this week’s biggest college basketball storylines, including the fact that Duke’s tournament position is not as solid as people think.

Story of the Week: Is Duke in danger of missing March Madness?

The Blue Devils have been ranked for the entire season but that has largely been due to voter’s deference to the brand of Duke basketball. On-court results show that this isn’t the same Duke team as Mike Krzyzewski‘s group hasn’t really been able to turn it around after a rough start.

The Blue Devils are 5-3 on the season but they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet, with all three of their ACC wins coming against the conference’s bottom feeders. The NET rankings bear this out as Duke checked in at No. 93 on Sunday, which is nowhere near good enough to be an at-large team. There is plenty of time for Duke to turn their season around but they need to start being good teams, including this week’s two-game road trip to Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Team of the Week: Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Big 12 is loaded with tough teams but one of the most dangerous teams in the conference may not even be able to go to the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State is currently appealing a postseason ban to see if they can go to March Madness this year and if it is successful the Cowboys will be a dangerous out in March.

Freshman Cade Cunningham has been a playmaking machine and helped power the Cowboys to signature wins over Texas Tech and Kansas already. A big matchup with Baylor looms on Saturday and could offer another opportunity for Oklahoma State to make a statement about how dangerous they can be.

Freshman of the Week: USC PF Evan Mobley

Cunningham has generated all the hype among the nation’s elite freshman but another player with a sky-high NBA ceiling has flown under the radar at USC. Forward Evan Mobley has been a dominant interior presence for the Trojans, who have won six straight games to surge into second place in the Pac-12 standings.

Scouts love Mobley, who is a freakish athlete as a 7-foot forward with tremendous length, mobility, and can shoot well from mid-range. Mobley is averaging 16 points per game and 8.3 rebounds a night to lead the Trojans in both categories and has been a defensive anchor for USC, blocking 3.1 shots a night for good measure.

Cinderella Watch: Saint Louis Billikens

Richmond has been the team ranked out of the A-10 this season but the most dangerous team in the conference could be the Billikens. People have forgotten about Saint Louis a bit due to a lengthy COVID pause but the Billikens have gotten off to a strong start in non-conference play, including a key victory over NC State by 11.

Saint Louis has a star-studded backcourt as guards Javonte Perkins and Jordan Goodwin dominate on a nightly basis, with Goodwin averaging a double-double by contributing 11.1 rebounds a night. The Billikens kick off their A-10 schedule this week with a trip to UMass and a home date with St. Bonaventure, offering them a chance to quickly get into the grind of conference play and build their resume up even further for March.

Game of the Week: Kansas at Baylor

There are a ton of great games this week but the matchup everyone should circle on their calendars happens tonight as Kansas heads to Waco to take on Baylor in a massive Big 12 showdown. These two teams have been the top-ranked teams in the conference for most of the season and each is a legitimate Final Four contender.

The Jayhawks and Bears split their season series a year ago, with each winning on the other’s home floor. The game itself means more for Kansas, which has a pair of Big 12 losses already and hasn’t played since getting upset by Oklahoma State in Stillwater last week.

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