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Joe Boozell | | January 27, 2019

5 things we learned from a busy college basketball weekend

No. 8 Kentucky tops No. 9 Kansas

It's been another entertaining weekend of college basketball, and there are plenty of storylines to dive into.

Here are five lessons we learned.

Kentucky is a legitimate national title contender

Kentucky was trending in this direction before it beat Kansas, but now, it's definitely a top championship contender. Since Dec. 9, the Wildcats are 9-1 with wins over North Carolina, Louisville, Auburn, Mississippi State and Kansas.

ANALYSIS: Kentucky beats Kansas in top 10 battle at Rupp Arena

That's a heck of a stretch. Ashton Hagans' two-way play has been a big reason for Kentucky's resurgence, but P.J. Washington's improvement can't be overlooked. He scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Kansas, and if you're a Kentucky fan, it had to have been nice to see Washington and Reid Travis play well in the same game. Nobody is questioning either guy's talent, but the fit has been awkward at times. Travis went for 18 and 12 on Saturday.

The Wildcats beat Kansas by eight in a game where they went 4-of-18 from 3-point range. This is a scary, scary bunch.

The Big 12 might be stronger than we thought

It's lazy to suggest one conference is better than another because of one day of head-to-head matchups, but the Big 12 fared well on Saturday, going 6-4 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech all came away with wins.

No. 20 Ole Miss falls at home to No. 24 Iowa State

The top of the Big 12 isn't particularly strong. Kansas doesn't look like the team we expected it to be coming into the season, but as usual, the league is deep. Eight Big 12 programs are in the KenPom top 45. West Virginia, which is having a down year, beat Kansas when it was previously 0-5 in conference.

It's funny. Kansas wins the Big 12, like, always, but this year, there's not a harder league to predict on a nightly basis.

SEC/BIG-12 CHALLENGE RECAP: 6 weekend scores with big NCAA tournament implications

Duke has a 'switch'

Credit Georgia Tech for playing Duke tough for a while. The Yellow Jackets led 29-27 after the first half and carried that lead into part of the second.

But the Blue Devils stormed back, of course, and it never really felt like they were in danger despite the scoreboard. Duke doesn't always have to play its best to win. When it matters most, these guys have the talent to lock in and go on absolute rampages.

That's a risky proposition going forward, though, particularly as it pertains to the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils clearly have the most talent in the country, but you can also see them getting upset because they aren't always laser-focused. Keep an eye on their performances against lower level ACC teams going forward.

TRE JONES RETURNS: Duke had all four freshmen back Saturday. But things weren't easy 

Illinois may not be consistently good, but it can be scary

It's certainly not as extreme as St. John's a year ago, but Illinois is a team that can catch anyone on the right night. The Fighting Illini are 6-14, but upset Maryland on Saturday and destroyed Minnesota, a likely tournament team, on Jan. 16.

Illinois upsets No. 13 Maryland, 78-67

It's been a tough week for the Terrapins, who were flying high and had won seven straight before running into Michigan State. Illinois has plenty of probable tournament teams left on its schedule, including Minnesota again, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana.

It feels like the Illini could win at least two of those.

Luck is starting to bounce back in Purdue's favor

No. 6 Michigan State falls to Purdue

To be clear, Purdue's win over Michigan State on Sunday had nothing to do with luck. But it suffered some close, heartbreaking losses early in the season. The Boilermakers are 14-6 now, and games against Virginia Tech, Florida State and Texas could have gone either way. Purdue always looked like a better team than its record indicated.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCORES: Full scoreboard | NET Top 25 team results

This is regulating as we speak. Beating Michigan State is a slight surprise, but it's no shock despite the difference in AP ranking. The Boilermakers are a top-10 KenPom team for a reason. Carsen Edwards is awesome, they arguably have the best home court advantage in college hoops, and the defense is rounding into form.

This looks like a team that could make a tournament run.

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2023 is a year to celebrate the present state of college basketball, with more senior stars than ever and a burgeoning women's game, but also a fitting occasion to look back on its impactful anniversaries that helped build the game. Mike Lopresti looks back on 80 years of college basketball history:

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