When the Blue Devils get to wear their gear around campus again, it will be thanks to the 6-foot-6 sophomore.
With Duke appearing ready to spiral to its fourth loss in five games, Kennard scored 34 points in an 85-83 win at Wake Forest, including the game-winning threepointer with 6.6 seconds to play. Kennard scored 11 of his points after Duke fell behind 81-71 with 3:50 to play.
The Missouri Valley Conference’s days of cracking the RPI code are gone — heck, the Ratings Percentage Index itself appears on the way out — but it is still producing NCAA tournament atlarge candidates, and it’s not just Wichita State. Illinois State opened just 4-3 and has bad losses to Murray State, Tulsa and San Francisco, but has since won 10 in a row to move to 174, including 9-0 in the MVC for the first time since 1983. The key is a smothering defense that ranks in the nation’s top 12 in efficiency and effective field goal percentage, according to KenPom.com. The Redbirds’ at-large hopes could rest with next Saturday’s rematch at Wichita State (18-4), which they beat, 76-62, on Jan. 14.
Coach Richard Pitino’s bumpy tenure at Minnesota finally seemed to smooth out with a 15-2 start to his fourth season. Now hopes for his first NCAA tournament berth are in jeopardy with the Gophers’ fifth consecutive loss. They have no truly bad losses, with the possible exception of a 52-50 defeat at Penn State, and only one by more than eight points. But their upcoming games against Illinois, Iowa and Rutgers have become win-or-else.