Fast Break: Duke back where it belongs

The clerical formality became actual reality Monday when the Associated Press voters moved Duke into first place and clubbed Indiana for losing to Butler, dropping the Hoosiers to No. 6.

There probably are not five teams better than Indiana, but there definitely are not any better than Duke. Not as far as we can tell by watching what has happened this year, anyway. The Blue Devils have three wins over teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. The only other game that has been close was a nine-point win over VCU.

Plus, they’re just Duke, you know?

That was a joke, of course. People hate it when Duke is No. 1, because Duke represents entitlement and privilege. Because of Dick Vitale, everybody thinks “the media” — an amorphous term people often use when what they’re really talking about is one specific person or outlet — just can’t wait to shower Duke with praise, high rankings, frankincense and myrrh.

Perhaps Duke has been overrated in the past for that reason, but that is not the case this time. Duke is No. 1 because Duke is the best team in the country. It just took an IU loss for us all to formally recognize it.

What about Weber?

If you’ve ever left a job, you know the petty feeling that clinks around in your head. You kind of hope that whoever replaces you is a nincompoop, don’t you? You know it’s sad and petty, but you can’t help it.

So this must be a trying time for Bruce Weber.

You remember Bruce. In 2004, in his first year at Illinois, he coached the Illini to the national championship game. The Illini were never even close to that good again, and last year they fired Weber.

Well, Bruce Weber got a job at Kansas State, where he is replacing the highly popular Frank Martin (now at South Carolina). The Wildcats are 7-2, with losses to Michigan and Gonzaga. Meanwhile, Illinois is undefeated and ranked in the Top 10 under new coach John Groce.

This is all rather confusing information if you’re trying to make a judgment on Weber. On the one hand, he succeeded early in his Illinois tenure with a team full of players recruited and trained by Bill Self. On the other hand, a team recruited and trained by Weber is now in the Top 10 without him as coach. In the middle, there was a lot of mediocrity.

So to whatever extent you gave Self credit for the team that went to the title game, you have to give Weber credit for what happens to the Illini this year.

R.I.P. Big East

The Big East died doing what it loved, fighting over basketball.

It was only 34. Still a babe, really. But that’s enough that two generations of college basketball fans grew up with it. I can remember exactly where I was — Junior’s Supper Club in Oklahoma City — during the six-overtime game between Syracuse and Connecticut. That game will be the enduring memory of this once-great league.

The league had a real style to it. It was tough and defensive-minded, but it was that way because the teams and players knew each other so well. It was the only way to survive.

It felt the way a conference is supposed to feel, that these were like-minded schools from the same part of the country, for whom the region was a genuine source of pride. There were many years that the best college basketball in the country was played in the Big East.

But the Big East succumbed last week to a long battle with football. The Big East tried to become something it wasn’t, and whether or not the Big East name continues, the Big East we knew and loved is dead.

It is survived by the other five current “BCS” conferences, Madison Square Garden and Jim Boeheim.

Telling stats

2
– Butler’s rank in the RPI after beating Indiana, a five-spot jump from last week.

2 – The Mountain West Conference’s rank in the Sagarin ratings.

.332/.240 – Percentages, from the field and 3-point line, respectively, shot by Texas’ opponents this season. Unfortunately for the 6-4 Longhorns,  their own marks (.408/.296) aren’t much better.

They said it

“They can beat us.” – Kansas coach Bill Self, before his team played Belmont, and won by 29.

“I almost feel guilty beating Florida.” – Arizona coach Sean Miller on how his team got outplayed by Florida, but won anyway.

“I thought we beat ourselves tonight.” – Florida coach Billy Donovan, on how his team did not outplay Arizona.
 
Player of the Year watch

1.  Mason Plumlee, Duke
He’s the best player on the best team and, who knows, maybe the best player on any team.

2.  Trey Burke, Michigan
Had 46 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists in two games last week. Also seems to be one of those guys that can have a big game even when it doesn’t feel like he’s having a big game. Not sure if that helps him or hurts him here.

3. Cody Zeller, Indiana
At some point this year, Zeller is going to really need to pour it on statistically if he’s going to win this award. He had 18 points and five rebounds against Butler, which was, like, a decent game or whatever.
 
Ups and downs

Down: Villanova
Look at the losses: Alabama, Columbia, LaSalle and Temple. When you start getting too many losses to teams not named after states, people start to get concerned.

Up: Arizona
The big win over Florida was the Wildcats’ first game against a Top 25 team and, thus, a validating moment.

Down: Colorado State
A bubbly start to the season has flattened a little, with back-to-back losses to Colorado and Illinois-Chicago. The Rams need better than a 3-for-9 effort out of 6-10 Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson if they’re going to get anywhere this year.

Up: Creighton
True: Creighton has not played a ranked team. Also true: Creighton lost to Boise State. Finally, true: They’re still 10-1 with wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Nebraska and Cal.

Crystal ball

Saturday, Aaron Craft annoys the ever-loving crap out of Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson, but Kansas center Jeff Withey causes the Buckeyes all the same problems he caused them in the NCAA Tournament last year.

Johnson goes 2-for-7 with four turnovers, Withey blocks six shots, Craft scores his only points of the game on free throws and Ohio State wins a close one in Columbus, Ohio.

Wednesday, Texas bogs down North Carolina into exactly the kind of game the Tar Heels do not want to play. It’s a game heading into the final four minutes, but North Carolina makes four shots in that time, and Texas makes one.

Saturday, No. 10 Illinois commits 21 turnovers in a seven-point loss at No. 12 Missouri. Fans of both schools briefly act like this is an actual rivalry either one of them truly cares about.