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Men’s college basketball Misery Index: Blue-bloods Duke, Kentucky are flailing

The men's 2020-21 college basketball season has gotten off to a rocky start.  After Mississippi and Gardner-Webb played Thursday, that leaves 26 Division I teams have not even played a game yet due to COVID-19 and ongoing cancellations and postponements since a Nov. 25 tipoff. 

Some coaches and analysts — including Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski — have spoken out against rushing games during a spike in coronavirus cases for the sake of the NCAA Tournament in March. But teams continue to play in empty gyms while following strict COVID-19 protocols. Duke, meanwhile, canceled the rest of its non-conference schedule over concerns about the coronavirus.

Yes, it's early in the season. But here's a look at several teams dealing with poor starts, starting with the blue bloods. 

1. Duke 

The Blue Devils (2-2) have lost to two good Big Ten teams – No. 9 Illinois on Tuesday and No. 4 Michigan State on Dec. 1 – so they're not in serious trouble as far as tourney résumés go. But both home losses revealed where this Duke team needs help: poor shooting (21.7%  on 3-pointers vs. MSU and 22.7% vs. Illinois) and an inability to defend at a high level. Aside from Matthew Hurt (19.8 points per game), this offense has been dry. Key contributor Wendell Moore Jr. is a combined 1-for-19 from the field in the last three games. Now the Blue Devils get a chance to reset before getting back on the court for their conference schedule.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky coach John Calipari. (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein, NBAE/Getty Images)

2. Kentucky

The Wildcats (1-3) are off to a disastrous start with losses to Richmond, Kansas and Georgia Tech. There's a very real chance UK drops to 1-4 when Notre Dame visits Rupp Arena this weekend. The common denominator in every loss has been poor team chemistry. Coach John Calipari is known for molding five-star talent into his system to form a cohesive unit, but right now this Kentucky team looks more like a puzzled AAU roster (turning the ball over 21 times vs. Georgia Tech) than an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad. 

3. North Carolina

Last season's unexpectedly bad 14-19 campaign understandably upset coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels (3-2) figure to be better this season, but losses  to No. 3 Iowa and No. 12 Texas show that one of the sport's biggest blue bloods has work to do. Those aren't portfolio-staining losses, but they're missed opportunities. 

4. Kansas State

Coach Bruce Weber apologized to Wildcats fans after Tuesday's loss to Division II Fort Hays State University. K-State (1-4) is off to a horrendous start and looks like it will struggle in a crowded Big 12 Conference, putting Weber's job security in jeopardy. 

"This was very, very disappointing and sad day for our program," Weber told reporters after the game. 

5. Northern Iowa

The Panthers (1-4) were expected to be mid-major contenders for an at-large bid based on preseason expectations. But coach Ben Jacobson's team has looked off in its first five games, dropping winnable games to solid opponents (Richmond, Utah State, Saint Mary's, Western Kentucky). With shortened schedules, small programs will have a hard time building up tourney-worthy portfolios, so losing in December hurts for a program like UNI. 

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson. 

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