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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Madness may leave Kentucky, Duke behind

by Wally Hall | February 12, 2021 at 2:25 a.m.

Much is being said and written about the seasons Duke and Kentucky basketball are experiencing.

They are like royalty in college basketball. Always ranked. Always a great seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Always until this season.

Duke lost to Notre Dame on Tuesday, and the Blue Devils are in 10th place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 5-6 record, 7-8 overall. They have a losing record and NET ranking of No. 75.

Unless they win the ACC Tournament, which seems unlikely, the Blue Devils will be out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995, when Coach Mike Krzyzewski left the team during the season because of back problems.

Kentucky, the perennial kings of the SEC basketball hill, is in 11th place with a 4-7 conference record and 5-13 overall.

The Wildcats' chances of making the Big Dance hinge on winning four, maybe five, in a row at the SEC Tournament. Considering they've won only four SEC games all season, they're a long shot.

Some experts are pointing to the pandemic as the reason for the down year.

It's true the Cameron Crazies and the Rupp Arena mouthy mink and diamond crowd are limited to a handful of people, but small crowds don't seem to be bothering Gonzaga or Baylor.

Another thing the giants of the game have in common is they have become programs known for one-and-dones.

That hasn't totally changed. The Wildcats had the No. 1 recruiting class a year ago with two five-star signees and four four-star signees. Duke was No. 3 with four five-star recruits and two four stars.

But the No. 1 player in the country, Cade Cunningham, went to Oklahoma State. Nos. 2 and 4 went to the G League, and No. 3 Evan Mobley signed with Southern California.

Usually those players would be wearing blue, either Kentucky or Duke.

Both teams are talented, but both are losing.

As the old saying goes, this is why the coaches get paid the big bucks -- to fix it.

* * *

Arkansas moved up two spots in the NCAA NET rankings to No. 26 after Wednesday's games, although the Razorbacks were off after playing Tuesday night.

Maybe they should take a couple of more days off.

Just kidding.

The Razorbacks have won five SEC games in a row. Although they haven't peaked, they look like they are moving in that direction.

It has taken a while -- as it always does with a new group -- but almost everyone seems to have accepted his role and the fact that the offense starts with defense.

If the season ended right now, the Razorbacks would be in the NCAA Tournament, likely in the 8-9 seed range.

With seven games remaining -- provided there is a make-up game with Texas A&M on the Saturday before the SEC Tournament begins -- the Razorbacks face a tough stretch.

It starts Saturday with Missouri, which beat them at Walton Arena 81-68. The Tigers were much more physical in that game, which is their calling card.

The Hogs follow that with Florida at home, go to Texas A&M, then catch first-place Alabama in Fayetteville. The Tide beat Arkansas 90-59 and made 15 three-pointers in that game.

Then they have another chance for payback when they host LSU, which won the first game 92-76. They close at South Carolina, then the make-up game with A&M.

February's frenzy is charging toward March Madness. If the Razorbacks continue to follow the game plans and stick to their roles, they are going to rise into a 6-7 seed range.


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