Five observations from the week that was:
1. The Top 25 is a volatile place to be. Putting a Top 25 together in any week is difficult, but it’s especially tough in November and December, and that goes double for the past week. A coterie of Top-25 squads dropped games, including No. 2 Michigan State, No. 4 Kansas State, No. 7 Villanova, No. 8 Purdue, No. 9 Kentucky and No. 11 Washington. Some of these losses were predictable (KSU-Duke, for example) but plenty of them weren’t (Butler losing at home to Evansville, anyone?), and even if you don’t throw in North Carolina’s poor performance in Puerto Rico, the picture here is pretty clear. We’re still a long way from sorting everything out. And -- as always -- polls don’t matter for a reason.
2. Duke is way ahead of the field. Watching the Blue Devils dismantle Kansas State in front of a partisan purple crowd on Tuesday night proved Duke is every bit as good as we thought before the season started. Maybe better. Meanwhile, Michigan State -- the team most saw as Duke’s biggest challenger this season -- logged a disappointing performance in Maui. The Spartans will only get better, and Ohio State and Kansas have been steamrolling opponents, but there’s no question that Duke has taken a big leap ahead of the rest of the field to begin the season.
3. The Pac-10 is a two-team league. Arizona and Washington have looked solid even in losses. The rest of the conference has looked anything but. Cal scored five points in a half versus Notre Dame and lost by a big margin (68-46) to Boston College; UCLA went 0-2 in the NIT in New York; Arizona State blew a 12-point lead in a loss to St. John’s; USC blew a 20-point lead to Nebraska to add to its running list of bad losses (Rider, Bradley); and Stanford lost twice in the 76 Classic (to Murray State, Tulsa) and was taken to overtime by DePaul. (Yes, DePaul. The same DePaul team that lost to Western Carolina and Cal State Northridge. That DePaul.) The Pac-10 has been much-maligned lately. Gee, I wonder why.
4. Butler might not be a tournament team. It’s still too early to count the Bulldogs out, but after their season-opening blowout to Louisville and a loss at home to Evansville, Butler has left itself a major challenge going forward. The Bulldogs have a smaller margin for error in the nonconference schedule, because it’s difficult to prove yourself in the Horizon League. (You can bet the committee isn’t going to like a loss to the Purple Aces at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It’s really bad.) Fortunately, the Bulldogs have a couple of opportunities for résumé wins coming up (Duke, at Xavier), a couple of surprise unbeaten teams (Cleveland State, Loyola) on hand in the Horizon League, and enough national name recognition that a 23-5-ish record might be enough to keep them from having to win their conference tournament in March.
5. Colorado is a long way from a sleeper season. Given the Buffaloes’ talent at the guard spots -- which includes Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, two Naismith Award watch list members -- many, including myself, thought Colorado might be a sneaky Big 12 sleeper pick. Instead, Colorado looks … well, it looks like Colorado. Tad Boyle’s team lost at San Francisco on Nov. 20 and was blown out by Harvard 82-66 on Sunday. That is not the stuff of sleeper squads. It’s certainly not the stuff of NCAA tournament teams.