AT THE WATER COOLER: In a pivotal five-game stretch to close the regular season, Duke was expected to lose at least once — facing North Carolina twice and Syracuse.
The Blue Devils (23-7, 12-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) certainly were not expected to lose to Wake Forest, a nightmare that became a reality in Wednesday night's 82-72 court-storming affair.
BRACKETOLOGY: Projecting the field of 68
COURT RUSH: Teams that beat Duke always do it
Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who became lightheaded and took a knee at one point in the game, skipped the postgame news conference. But if Coach K had spoken to media members, he likely would have pointed out a five-minute stretch without a field goal that doomed the Blue Devils.
What does it mean in the grand scheme of things for Duke?
It's another example of Duke's inability to control the game when perimeter shots aren't falling. The Blue Devils got 49 points from their best scorers — Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon — but shot 22.2% from beyond the arc. That's a recipe for a loss for most teams, especially teams such as Duke that struggle to stop penetration and lack a serious interior presence.
On the positive side, from a seeding standpoint, it isn't that drastic of a concern. The Blue Devils dropped from a No. 2 seed to a No. 3 seed in our latest bracketology projections after Wednesday's résumé-staining loss. They'll need multiple dominoes to fall in order to have a chance at nabbing a No. 1 seed.
Duke's NCAA tournament credentials (wins against Michigan, Virginia, UCLA, Syracuse) outweigh blemishes (losses to Notre Dame, Clemson and Wake Forest), but a No. 1 seed seems out of the question, even if the Blue Devils were to outduel Syracuse and Virginia to win the ACC tournament.
In this season of parity, with many good teams and few great teams, it's almost more important to be placed in a winnable regional as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. That's not to say Duke's issues are irrelevant. They're second-round upset scary, actually. But the fact of the matter is that often, especially on neutral courts, the Blue Devils fire on all cylinders and are very tough to beat.
REWIND: No. 3 Arizona held off a scrappy Oregon State squad 74-69. No. 8 Kansas took care of business, dispatching Texas Tech 82-57. No. 11 Wisconsin knocked off Purdue 76-70. No. 10 San Diego State toppled UNLV 73-64. No. 9 Louisville gave No. 18 SMU a rare loss on its home floor 84-71. And reeling No. 16 Saint Louis lost again, this time to Dayton in a 72-67 decision.
TIP-OFF: At the risk of oversimplification, a surefire way to move up in your league's standings is to beat the teams ahead of you. Xavier did that over the weekend against Creighton but followed with a damaging loss to Seton Hall on Monday. The Musketeers, still in a battle for third place, now set their sights on the Big East's top dogs — er — cats, No. 6 Villanova (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1).
Xavier will be without center Matt Stainbrook, though the knee injury he suffered in the loss to the Pirates wasn't as serious as initially feared. His return for the Big East tournament next week is possible, but the Musketeers in the meantime must get another big scoring day from Semaj Christon to stay with Villanova. The Wildcats, who have taken care of everybody not named Creighton in the new-look conference, figure to enjoy a significant advantage on the glass with their front-court depth but need a clean game from Ryan Arcidiacono at the point.
ALSO ON DECK: A look at the rest of the marquee matchups tonight. All times Eastern.
— No. 20 Memphis at No. 15 Cincinnati (7 p.m., ESPN)
— No. 25 Iowa at No. 22 Michigan State (9 p.m., ESPN)
— Virginia Commonwealth at Richmond (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
NUMBER OF THE DAY: 57.2. Despite a loss at Connecticut last time out, No.15 Cincinnati remains in the hunt to finish atop the American Athletic Conference standings in the league's first year. The Bearcats continue to lead the conference in scoring defense and rank third nationally, surrendering 57.2 points a game. But Sean Kilpatrick and Co. must produce more points tonight as they host No. 20 Memphis (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Tigers defend the perimeter well, holding opponents to 29.8% shooting from three-point range.
WORDS OF THE DAY: "We've got to start over. We've got to focus on what we can control and use the past to motivate us." — Michigan State's Adreian Payne, after Illinois handed the Spartans their sixth loss in 10 games over the weekend. MSU should have its entire lineup available with the return of Branden Dawson from a hand injury, but the 22nd-ranked Spartans must rediscover their on-court chemistry in a hurry for the stretch drive, starting tonight at home against No. 25 Iowa (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
DAYS UNTIL SELECTION SUNDAY: 10.
Scott Gleeson, a national college basketball writer/digital producer for USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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