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Mike Lopresti | | January 6, 2020

The gap between Duke and North Carolina and 17 more college basketball lessons learned to begin 2020

College basketball rankings: Here's why undefeated Auburn dropped, Michigan State surged in Power 36

Eleven miles. That’s the distance between Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and North Carolina’s Smith Center.

Light years. That’s how far it is between the two programs right now on the scoreboard . . . in the polls . . . between the tone of the coaches in their post-game press conferences over the weekend.

This was Mike Krzyzewski, after Duke steamrolled Miami 95-62 for its seventh win in a row.

“We played very, very well. Not very well — two verys.”

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This was Roy Williams, after North Carolina was flattened at home by Georgia Tech 96-83, its sixth loss in nine games:

“I apologize to all of the North Carolina fans, people that care about our basketball program, former players, everyone who cares about us, because we stunk it up tonight and that’s got to be my responsibility. It’s the most negative I’ve ever felt about myself, most negative I’ve ever felt about my team .  .  . most disappointed and most upset I’ve ever been in my life coaching a basketball game. It’s not even close."

Those are college basketball’s most famous neighbors doing the talking. They’re traveling very different roads these days.

That was Exhibit A from the first weekend of the decade, which provided a buffet table of intrigue and revelations. There were 11 overtime games. Three top-10 teams were upset — Louisville, Memphis and Villanova, the first two at home.  And there were messages galore.

Yes, Gonzaga is showing some rare vulnerability at the moment. Pepperdine, having lost 37 times in a row to the Zags, showed up in Spokane and took them to the last minute. This was two days after Gonzaga trailed Portland at halftime.

Yes, Michigan State seems to be doing what Michigan State often does — closing in on its A game as the calendar pages turn. Cassius Winston’s career-high 32 points in the sacking of Michigan on Sunday were like a warning shot across the Big Ten bow.

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Yes, San Diego State is still unbeaten, and might stay that way a while. The 15-0 Aztecs just passed what, on paper, looks like their toughest regular season test, ending Utah State’s 15-game home winning streak, 77-68.

Yes, Auburn remains unbeaten, too. The 13-0 Tigers missed 22 of their first 25 shots and still won at Mississippi State, 80-68. This, in the arena where they had gone 2-15 since 2001.

Yes, Florida State demands attention again, even if the Seminoles don’t get it, which is customary. They barged into Louisville, where the Cardinals were fifth in the nation in field-goal defense, and shredded the home team 78-65 with 55 percent shooting, and six different players hitting 3-pointers. Florida State is now 13-2 and has beaten Florida, Tennessee and Louisville when they were all ranked, and none of them as a Seminoles home game.

Yes, the never-boring and seldom-predictable Florida Gators could fall behind Alabama by 21 points, then win 104-98 in two overtimes, the biggest comeback in school history.

Yes, Kansas is hard to beat at home, even if the Jayhawks don't score. They put up the fewest points in Allen Fieldhouse in six years, and still topped West Virginia 60-53 in a gritty slugfest of 38 field goals and 30 turnovers. The big guys trading double-doubles in the paint — Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike and his 17 points and 11 rebounds, West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe with 17 and 17 — combined to hit 12 of 16 shots. Everyone else on both sides shot 28.9 percent.

Yes,  TCU's R.J. Nembhard is becoming Mr. Big Shot. The Horned Frogs outlasted Iowa State 81-79 in overtime after he buried a 3 pointer from midcourt with 1.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. He beat UC Irvine with a 3-point with 3.3 seconds left in November.

Yes, Valparaiso — which had lost 22 games in a row at Evansville — could finally beat the Aces on their home floor the first time since 1969. The 81-79 final was the end of a day’s winding road. Valpo went up 52-42, then was outscored 27-9 to fall behind eight, then rallied to win.

Yes, William & Mary remains a pack of intrepid travelers. The Tribe won its seventh road game, most of anyone in the nation, 66-64 over Northeastern on a basket with 1.1 seconds left by Nathan Knight. He also leads the Division I world in double-doubles with 12.

Yes, the record book remains on alert for Notre Dame. The Irish had 26 assists to go with only nine turnovers in an 88-87 win at Syracuse. That puts their assist-turnover ratio at 1.96. The NCAA all-time record is 2.01 for West Virginia in 2001.

Yes, Penn State is enjoying life as a ranked team. The Nittany Lions finished off Iowa 89-86 after 24 lead changes and 10 ties. This was the first time in nearly 24 years Penn State played a ranked opponent as a ranked team.

Yes, Marquette could shoot 18.5 percent in the second half and still knock off Villanova 71-60, its biggest winning margin over the Wildcats in 13 years. That’s because the Golden Eagles shot 55.6 percent the first half, and outscored Villanova 26-3 from the free-throw line for the game.

Yes, Georgia is on the move, and not always with freshman phenom Anthony Edwards doing the heavy lifting. The 65-62 upset at Memphis was the Bulldogs’ first road win over a top-10 team since 2004. And 10-3 Georgia did it with Edwards going 4-for-17.

Yes, Pacific and Saint Mary’s could finally decide a game. Someone had to win, and after four overtimes 158 shots, and 86 free throws, Pacific did, 107-99. The two teams combined for only 14 assists for 64 field goals. Jahlil Tripp had 39 for Pacific, Jordan Ford 36 for Saint Mary’s, playing 58 of the 60 minutes.

Yes, Virginia is still putting on defensive clinics. The latest: Shutting down Virginia Tech 65-39. The Hokies came in 11th in the nation in 3-point shooting, and Virginia held them to 4-for-25. That’s nine Cavalier opponents this season who couldn’t break 50, and five who couldn’t score more than 20 points in the first half. P.S. —  Virginia has won 23 of its last 26 games against in-state teams, and is 70-15 the past 20 years.

But most of all, yes, Duke is going thisaway while Tobacco Road cousin North Carolina — battered by injury — goes thataway.

The Blue Devils shot just under 60 percent at Miami, its highest in an ACC road game in seven years.

The Tar Heels missed their first 15 shots at Georgia Tech, and were behind from the start, 27-4.

Duke has won its last four games by 29, 25, 39 and 33 points.

North Carolina has trailed by at least 23 points in four games this season.

Duke is No. 1 in the nation scoring margin, fourth in scoring and 17th in shooting, and seems to be developing a recurring theme of winning with depth and defense. Though as Krzyzewski said Monday, “We haven’t played long enough for it to recur.”

Same categories, North Carolina is 231st, 211th and 319th, as Williams try to plug holes left by injury, freshman sensation and leading scorer Cole Anthony the biggest loss of all. “We can’t make excuses,” Williams said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for North Carolina.”

Duke is 13-1, ranked No. 2, and looking like a national championship threat.

North Carolina is 8-6, did not receive a single vote in last week’s Associated Press poll. and if this slide continues much longer, could miss the NCAA Tournament. That’s happened to Williams only once in the past 30 years at Kansas and in Chapel Hill.

The odd year was at North Carolina in 2010, same season Duke won the national championship. So these two have been far apart before, but very seldom has it been as stark as right now. That’s what the first weekend of 2020 told us, among other things.

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