INDIANAPOLIS — Top-ranked Kentucky and Duke looked like championship contenders Tuesday night. Kansas and Michigan State showed they’ve still got a long way to go.
In what had been billed as a potential Final Four preview, less than a mile from where the championship game will be played in April, didn’t live up to the hype.
Duke never trailed in its 81-71 victory over the perennially strong Spartans, and the Wildcats ran away with a 72-40 victory that only reinforced Kentucky’s position as the preseason favorite.
“No, we’re not that good, next question,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in his opening remarks after the stunning win.
Perhaps the results shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Michigan State (1-1) usually plays a daunting non-conference schedule in hopes of steadily improving over time. Coach Tom Izzo hasn’t changed tacks, opting to play six of his first eight games off campus, including another game against the fourth-ranked Blue Devils (3-0). Duke has won four straight in the series including the 2013 regional semifinal game that was also played in Indy.
And after No. 5 Kansas’ embarrassing loss, coach Bill Self acknowledged he had detected problems in practice even before Tuesday’s showdown between the two college programs with the most wins in Division I history.
Only two Kentucky players scored in double figures. Dakari Johnson had 11 points, and Andrew Harrison had 10. They didn’t need scorers Tuesday, though.
Kansas (1-1) was stunningly inefficient, making only 11 baskets all night — eight in the first half, three in the second — and finished with a field goal percentage of 19.6. They were just 3 of 15 on 3-pointers and were 15 of 27 on free throws. It was the lowest point total in Self’s 11-year tenure, and the Jayhawks barely avoided becoming the first Kansas team to finish with fewer than 40 points since a 37-point effort against Oklahoma State in February 1962.
Wayne Selden Jr. had nine points for Kansas.
“Individually we’re not good enough to go out and play against guys like that,” Self said. “We have to become a team and we’re not close to becoming a team yet.”
The Blue Devils already appear to be in midseason form.
After topping 100 points in each of their first two games, they again controlled the game from start to finish. Duke has trailed for a total of 18 seconds this season and only Michigan State to tie the game once.
The Blue Devils, who start three freshmen, were led by Quinn Cook with 19 points and Jahlil Okafor, who had 17 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in only his third college game and his first real NBA audition on the home floor of the Indiana Pacers.
“Part of him being so good is his teammate’s ability to get him the ball, but also to hit shots,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after winning his 985th game. “That’s the type of thing that we need to build on.”
Michigan State was led by Branden Dawson with 18 points and nine rebounds. Travis Trice had 15 points and Denzel Valentine finished with 13 points.
But coach Tom Izzo, who won the 2000 national championship, believes any or all of the teams that played in Indy on Tuesday still could return in April for the Final Four.
By then, he figures, all four teams should be playing their best.
“We ran out of gas at the 10-minute mark when we were down three. Just didn’t have enough subs,” Izzo said. “We’re not a very good defensive team yet and I don’t think we will be until we get some subs and until we get some sort of substitution pattern.”
-Published by Andrew Thompson