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Joe Boozell | | November 22, 2016

Poll reactions: Duke falls, but plenty of optimism in Durham

  Duke has needed Luke Kennard to step up in the wake of injuries, and he's done just that.

As Thanksgiving tournaments are starting to tip off, the AP released its third edition of college basketball rankings on Monday afternoon. Surprise, surprise: there are some shakeups up top.


Your new No. 1 team in the land is the Kentucky Wildcats. The coronation is well deserved – UK manhandled Michigan State at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, and the Wildcats haven’t really been challenged to this point. The freshmen are living up to their billing, and Kentucky is receiving veteran contributions from the likes of Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis.

It’s early to be looking at resumes, but if we were, Villanova or Indiana would deserve the No. 1 spot. The Hoosiers beat Kansas decisively, which beat then-No. 1 Duke. Meanwhile, Villanova’s true road win against Purdue is probably the most impressive triumph we’ve seen from any team to date. Mackey Arena was absolutely rocking that night, and Villanova’s supposed Achilles' heel is its lack of imposing center. Meanwhile, Purdue has two of the best interior scorers in America. Somehow, Jay Wright’s squad found a way. That’s what champions do.

The highest riser in this week’s poll is Creighton, which jumped 10 spots to No. 12. The Bluejays had an awfully impressive week – they defeated Wisconsin at home on Tuesday night and lit up the scoreboard against North Carolina State on Sunday.

So, how is Creighton doing it? By scoring like it’s the Doug McDermott era. The Bluejays are ranked eighth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency; Creighton is balanced, as it has five guys averaging double figures. They present no hiding spots for opponents; play a weak defender against the Jays, and he’s toast. Of Creighton’s top-four scorers, Marcus Foster has the worst 3-point percentage. He’s making 48.1 percent of his triples. That tells you all you need to know about how lethal Creighton is offensively.

Taking a look at some teams who dropped, there is a common theme: injuries. Dillon Brooks hasn’t played yet for Oregon, and the Ducks dropped nine spots to No. 13 after getting blown out at Baylor. Duke falls from No. 1 to No. 6, but given the circumstances, the Blue Devils have been outstanding. Take three potential All-Americans off of any college basketball roster and see what happens. Spoiler alert: they’d probably collapse.

Not Duke. Coach K’s bunch notched an impressive win over Rhode Island on Sunday, and it lost on a buzzer-beater to Kansas on a neutral floor. Imagine what the Blue Devils will look like with Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden back (and Grayson Allen, who’s clearly been hobbled, at 100 percent). If anything, the first week and change should give you more confidence that Duke is the best team in the country.

And last but not least, a quick note: Scott Drew is extremely underrated as a coach at Baylor. It’s easy to see why the Bears don’t get much love. Baylor has faltered in the past two NCAA tournaments with clearly superior rosters; as a result, there’s a perception of underachievement.

MORE: College basketball All-Week team

That’s understandable. At the same time, March Madness is a super small sample size. Take a look at his body of work, and Drew has done an extraordinary job in Waco -- this year is no exception. The Bears lost Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince and Lester Medford off of last year’s team – they were unranked coming into the season, but after throttling then-No. 4 Oregon on Tuesday, Baylor is ranked 20th.

The Bears’ two most prominent additions, Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil, look like studs. Lecomte is averaging 16.7 points and seven assists per game; Acuil is looking like one of the top rim-protectors in college basketball, as he’s swatting a ridiculous 5.3 shots per game.

We’ll see if it lasts. Just remember: Villanova was once mocked for its March futility. We know how that turned out. Give a good program enough spins of the wheel, and it’s bound to break through. Drew deserves credit for compiling good teams year in and year out.

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