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3 things we learned from Kansas’ 77-75 upset of top-ranked Duke

There will be a new No. 1 team in the country next week thanks to Frank Mason III’s heroics in the Champions Classic.

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke vs Kansas Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-17 college basketball season is only five days old, but it has already given us our first taste of a top-ranked team taking a loss.

Duke, the overwhelming No. 1 team in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll, came up short in its Champions Classic showdown with No. 7 Kansas despite a furious final-minute rally inside Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. After a 7-0 Blue Devil run tied the score at 75, Jayhawk senior guard Frank Mason III hit a pull-up jumper with 1.8 seconds to play that gave his team a 77-75 victory.

Mason, who dropped 30 points in a loss to Indiana on opening night, led all Kansas players with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Freshman Josh Jackson added 15 points, while junior guard Devonte’ Graham chipped in 13.

For Duke, it was sophomore guard Luke Kennard who stole the show, scoring a game-high 22 points and dishing out five assists. That effort helped the Blue Devils stay in the game despite a subpar effort from preseason ACC Player of the Year Grayson Allen, who scored 12 points on just 4-of-15 shooting from the field.

This time next week, there will be a new No. 1 in college hoops. Here are three more things we learned on Tuesday night.

1. Duke could still wind up being the best team in college basketball, but it isn’t right now.

Bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and bringing back a core group of talented veterans including All-American Grayson Allen had many predicting during the offseason that the 2016-17 Duke Blue Devils could be college basketball’s next super team.

While that prediction could still come to fruition at some point between now and the first Monday in April, Tuesday night’s loss proved that when it’s this far from full strength, Duke doesn’t deserve to be the sport’s top dog.

All-everything freshman Jayson Tatum should be good to go soon, and fellow top-three recruit Harry Giles is likely to be at or near 100 percent at some point this season. Another freshman big man, Marques Bolden, is also sidelined with a lower leg injury.

Perhaps it was foolish to think that Duke was so deep and so talented that it could absorb a trio of blows without falling off too steeply. That notion was quickly put to bed on a night when Mike Krzyzewski didn’t feel comfortable playing more than six players. Freshman guard Frank Jackson was the only Blue Devil reserve who saw the court, which wound up being an insurmountable disadvantage against a Kansas team that went nine deep.

It’s hard to tell where exactly the Blue Devils belong in the college hoops hierarchy while they attempt to get healthy, but it’s clear after Tuesday that their place isn’t at the very top.

2. Josh Jackson is poised for stardom.

The No. 1 player in the class of 2016, according to multiple scouting services, Kansas’ Josh Jackson appeared to be pressing in his college debut last Friday. The explosive 6’8 guard misfired on eight of his 11 field goal attempts and scored just nine points in the Jayhawks’ 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic.

Under even brighter lights on Tuesday night, Jackson looked like the freshman star many believe is capable of carrying Kansas back to the Final Four. He scored 15 points, connected on 7-of-9 field-goal attempts, and was the main catalyst of the mid-second-half run that put the Jayhawks in control of the game.

The only downside of Jackson’s performance — outside of his 0-for-4 free-throw shooting — was that he struggled with fouling for a second straight game. After picking up four in the loss to Indiana, Jackson fouled out of Tuesday night’s game with 5:02 still left to play and with his team leading by 10. It was a rookie mistake that could have easily cost his team a win that it’ll be able to hang its hat on every day from now until Selection Sunday.

3. We have all undervalued Amile Jefferson’s importance for Duke.

From the summer through the opening days of the season, all of the talk about Duke and its impending dominance has centered on the freshman stars, Allen, and other major contributors from last year’s team like Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and Chase Jeter.

On the rare occasion that the conversation has shifted to Amile Jefferson, the topic has typically centered on his extensive experience and leadership abilities. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the fifth-year senior was a glorified player-coach whose sole contribution to the 2016-17 Blue Devils is giving advice to the freshman phenoms during timeouts or trips to the bench.

The reality is that Jefferson was averaging a double-double (11.4 points per game/10.3 rebounds per game) before he went down last season, and his absence was the difference between Duke being a legitimate national title contender and a team that overachieved to earn a No. 4 seed and a trip to the Sweet 16.

It’s abundantly clear through three games that even once the three freshman big men get back on the court, Jefferson will have a huge hand in any success that Duke has this season. He was the team’s most impressive player in the first half, scoring 11 points and snagging four rebounds. When he picked up his fourth foul with 14:42 to play, the tide of the game turned. Kansas took a 41-39 lead and blew it out to a 56-45 advantage that it would never relinquish.