- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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1. There is still hope among the new alignment moves to create or enhance rivalries. If Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond stay in the Atlantic 10 for the foreseeable future, this city rivalry could become one of the marquee events in the conference. The chances Butler stays in the A-10 aren't high if the Catholic 7 come calling in the near future -- the Bulldogs are likely to bolt to join Georgetown, St. John's, Marquette and Villanova, so it's hard to plan on the Butler-VCU game every season. But the chances VCU and Richmond are taken aren't as high. VCU and Richmond were in the Colonial Athletic Association together from 1996-2001. After Richmond went to the A-10, the two schools played once a season from 2001-11. Thursday marked was the first time both were in the A-10, the first of two games in a home-and-home series. Richmond won in overtime 86-74 after making a seven-point comeback in the last 40 seconds, finished off by a Darien Brothers 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining. Richmond was playing without second-leading scorer Derrick Williams. VCU hosts Richmond on March 6. This should be the conference's marquee rivalry series to promote. Butler and VCU only play once this season -- March 2 -- and unless the league is ready to commit to the two schools playing twice every season, it won't be a series, but rather the single biggest game of the conference season. "It's a great rivalry with two sellouts,'' Spiders coach Chris Mooney said late Thursday night. "The local media is focusing on the A-10 race only. The build up to the game was bigger than ever.''
2. Duke suffered an embarrassing 27-point loss to Miami Wednesday night as the top-ranked team. The Blue Devils were "bad in all facets,'' according to associate head coach Chris Collins. "We couldn't score, which then affected our defense. We missed layups and open 3s. We've got to be much sharper on both ends.'' The Blue Devils are still missing Ryan Kelly, who is now on crutches with a foot injury. Duke still has a daunting schedule, with two games each against Maryland (the first one at home Saturday) and North Carolina, return games against both NC State and Miami and games at Florida State and Virginia, both tough stops. Mason Plumlee's offensive execution has also dipped, shooting 35 percent or below in three of the past five games. Obviously, if Seth Curry goes 0-for-10 as he did against the 'Canes, the Blue Devils are likely not going to win.
3. Midway through the season, there are two players in two conferences who are on track to be league player of the year but weren't projected as such in the preseason. Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, who was a perfect 9-for-9 for 26 points (8-of-8 at the line) in Thursday's victory over BYU, is the clear favorite to win the West Coast Conference player of the year. Olynyk is averaging 18 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. Meanwhile, Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson, who scored 28 points in a win over Tennessee on Thursday, is averaging 18.9 points a game and may be the leader in the clubhouse for SEC player of the year, as the Rebels are in a tussle with Florida for the SEC regular-season title.