College basketball misery index: Blue-bloods Duke, Kansas and Michigan State stumble

Conference play is starting to heat up in the men's college basketball season, as teams do their best to separate themselves in crowded races for league supremacy.

With about two months until Selection Sunday, there still is plenty of time to establish a team identity. Still, league wins in January will undoubtedly matter in March. Losses and bad momentum go the same way. Whether it's a résumé-staining setback or a missed opportunity to bolster credentials, a bad week can spell doom. 

Here's a look at the teams – good and bad – that have struggled as of late and have fallen onto our updated misery index. 

Duke

The Blue Devils (5-3) won two games in ACC play after an extended break. But Tuesday's setback loss to Virginia Tech showed how out of sync this Duke team can be against a top-tier team. Not only is the team chemistry subpar, but the defense is the weak point as the Blue Devils rank 286th nationally in field goal percentage defense. This Duke team beat only bottom-feeder Boston College by one point the week before, so coach Mike Krzyzewski has some work to do if this team wants to contend for an ACC title. 

Michigan State

Coach Tom Izzo got his team back on track with back-to-back Big Ten wins over Nebraska and Rutgers, but then the Spartans (8-4) followed it up with a 55-54 loss to Purdue in which they squandered a 17-point lead. That moves Michigan State to 2-4 in a crowded Big Ten – good enough for 11th place.  

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Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks to guard A.J. Hoggard during the first half against Purdue at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. (Photo: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas 

The Jayhawks (10-3) are in no real trouble, except for the fact that Tuesday's loss to Oklahoma State hands Kansas two losses in Big 12 play – and two losses behind front-runners Baylor and Texas in the league title race. Kansas had won 14 consecutive Big 12 titles before having that streak snapped in 2019. The Jayhawks won the league again last year, going 17-1, but will have their work cut out for them this year with a less-developed team and two national title contenders in Baylor and Texas. 

Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights (7-4) had a promising preseason prospectus and were delivering with six wins to start 2020-21 but now they've lost three of four and lost the last three. Rutgers doesn't shoot the ball well from deep and is one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country (ranking 333rd in all of Division I). Second-chance points are costing this squad. In the Knights' latest loss to Ohio State this week, they got out-rebounded 43-29. 

Missouri

After a surprisingly stellar start to the season, Missouri (7-2) is falling off, having lost two of three in SEC play. The Tigers got pummeled by Tennessee by 20 last week before getting blasted by Mississippi State by 15 this week. Coach Cuonzo Martin noted his team's inability to stay hungry in second halves after building up big first-half leads. That will have to change if Missouri is to rekindle its footing in conference action. 

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson. 

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