By Steve Silverman
As we head into December and the college basketball season gains real steam, the Duke Blue Devils are an oncoming freight train.
Not only are the Devils undefeated at 8-0, they are so loaded that they could go another month or more before they taste defeat.
Perhaps an undefeated season is at hand? No way, since this is not 1976, the year the Indiana Hoosiers finished the last perfect season and culminated it by winning the national title.
The latest rankings have Duke as a unanimous No. 1 in the AP Top 25, and they are also in the top spot of the USA Today Coaches Poll. Kansas snared one first-place vote in those rankings.
Both polls agree on the top eight teams, with Duke at the top followed by Kansas, Michigan State, Villanova, Notre Dame, Florida, Kentucky and Wichita State. The AP follow with Texas A&M at No. 9 and Miami as No. 10. The Coaches' poll has Cincinnati at No. 9, while the Aggies are No. 10.
While the Blue Devils may lose a game or two at some point, Mike Krzyzewski's team is going to be tough to beat for a simple reason. They have remarkable personnel, with four players who could be drafted in the Top 20 of next year's NBA draft.
Power forward Marvin Bagley III has an excellent chance of going as the No. 1 pick, according to NBAdraft.net, with 6-6 shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. going 13th, point guard Trevon Duval going 14th and forward-center Wendell Carter rated at No. 17.
Kentucky and Michigan State both have two players going in the top 20, and no other school has more than one. That's why Duke has a major edge this season.
ACC dominates Big Ten once again
With one game left to be played in this year's ACC-Big Ten challenge, the ACC has proved to be dominant once again.
Whether the games were blowouts or nail-biters, the ACC has a 9-2 edge in this year's competition. The only game remaining is tonight's match-up between No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 3 Michigan State at East Lansing.
If the Irish find a way to beat Tom Izzo's team on it's home floor, the ACC will have the biggest edge it has ever gained in the rivalry between the two-high profile conferences.
Purdue and Nebraska are the only Big Ten teams to pull out wins at this point, while North Carolina rolled to a 15-point win over Michigan and Clemson hammered Ohio State by 14 points.
Duke toyed with Indiana in winning by 10, while Northwestern was beaten by a point at Georgia Tech when Tadric Jackson of the Yellow Jackets took the ball to the hole and converted a left-handed layup at the buzzer.
This competition regularly belongs to the ACC. It began in 1999, and the Big Ten was on the losing end of the first 10 meetings. The Big Ten finally won 2009, and also held on to their advantage in 2010 and 2011, before the two conferences finished tied in 2012 and 2013. The Big Ten added two more wins before the ACC won last year and dominated this year.
That makes the count 13-5-2 in favor of the ACC, and that conference has extreme bragging rights once again.
Xavier rebounds in a big way
After suffering a brutal loss to Arizona State in which the Sun Devils shredded the Xavier (6-1) defense for 102 points, the Musketeers bounced back with their best win of the year.
Xavier took on undefeated and 16th-ranked Baylor, and the Musketeers recorded a 76-63 victory over the Bears Wednesday night.
The victory was significant for X because they were challenged by head coach Scott Drew to demonstrate their toughness. That has been one of the primary underpinnings of the Xavier program from a time long before Drew became head coach.
Drew made sure his players knew what he wanted to see, but they took it upon themselves to up the tempo in practice before the Musketeers met Baylor.
"All we did in practice when we got back was defense," point guard Quentin Goodin said. "I thought we played with a lot of pride on defense and it showed.
"We knew what we had to do to prepare for this game. Toughness was a huge part of this game."
Xavier opened the game with a 21-8 burst and they dictated the pace for 40 minutes.
Arizona State had beaten Xavier 102-86 last Friday, and while the Sun Devils are clearly a very good team that has gotten off to a 6-0 start, Xavier doesn't give up 100 points to any opponent.
Look for Xavier to turn up the defensive heat from this point forward.
Upstarts, we have upstarts
College basketball fans know that one of the best parts of the game is that it's not all about the power conferences and teams like Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas and Notre Dame.
The traditional powers will always be heard from, but smaller schools from unheralded conferences can give a season flavor.
One of those teams is Loyola (Chicago), as the Ramblers have gotten off to 7-1 start in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Ramblers have games coming up against Illinois-Chicago and No. 6 Florida in the coming week. Head coach Porter Moser's team has four players averaging in double digits, including freshman Marques Townes, who is averaging 14.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting a sizzling .560 from the field.
Keep an eye on this team as one that could make Cinderella dreams come true.
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