DURHAM, N.C. — Three polls into the season, Duke is the third team to ascend to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 men’s basketball rankings.
The Blue Devils (4-0), after pounding Central Arkansas, 105-54, and topping Georgia State, 74-63, last week at Cameron Indoor Stadium, took advantage of last week’s No. 1 team, Kentucky, suffering a 67-64 home loss to Evansville last Tuesday night.
Duke had to fight hard in the second half of the Georgia State game to avoid an upset loss of its own. The Blue Devils won despite shooting a season-low 34.2% of the field. The game was tied at 40 with just under 17 minutes to play when Duke scored the game’s next 13 points. Tre Jones, who finished with 31 points, scored 10 during that game-changing stretch.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team didn’t play with the intensity needed to beat a regular NCAA tournament participant like Georgia State early in the game.
“I’ve told my team this a number of times,” Krzyzewski said last Friday night. “In the past couple of games, coaches have come in here and said how hard Duke plays, and those are great compliments, and that is our calling card. If you show up and don’t play hard, that gives a lot of confidence to the other team – ‘Oh, they’re not who we thought they were’ – so if we don’t come out and match or exceed that effort, we’re giving our opponent momentum right from the start.
"And I thought that was evident right away, because we weren’t strong with the ball. And, not that (Georgia State) wasn’t confident, but their confidence grew.”
Now that Duke is No. 1, it will need that intensity to stay there as its foes seek to knock the Blue Devils from the top spot.
Duke opened the season ranked No. 4 and moved up to No. 2 last week after beating then No. 3 Kansas 68-66 in the Champions Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5. That same night, in the second game of the Champions Classic doubleheader, Kentucky beat preseason No. 1 Michigan State, 69-62.
The Blue Devils return to that venue this week, facing California at 9 p.m. Thursday in the 2K Empire Classic tournament semifinals. Duke will play either Texas or Georgetown on Friday.
“Expect the same from this team – being extremely hungry still,” Jones said after Friday night’s win over Georgia State. “No matter what happens to start off the week (with the new poll), just extremely hungry, we’re going up there with one goal in mind – to come back with two wins and continue to grow on defense and offense.”
Duke’s move up to No. 1 on Monday adds to the program’s long history in that position.
When Duke takes the court against California, it will be the 251st game it was played as the No. 1 team in the AP poll under Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils are 216-34 (81.6 winning percentage) in those games, which began in February 1986 when they first were ranked No.1 under Krzyzewski.
Now in his 40th season as Duke’s coach, Krzyzewski has seen his Blue Devils ranked No. 1 at some point in 20 of those seasons. They’ve been ranked No.1 at some point in 15 of the last 23 seasons.
Duke first became the nation’s No. 1 team on Dec. 11, 1951. With this week’s poll, Duke has been ranked No. 1 in 143 AP polls all-time.
The Blue Devils have now been No. 1 in the AP poll at some point in each of the last four seasons. Duke spent eight weeks at No. 1 last season, including the final poll that was conducted following its ACC championship win but prior to the NCAA tournament. That marked the eighth time in program history Duke has been ranked No.1 entering the NCAA tournament.
Of course, the way this college basketball season is going so far, there’s a good chance a team, one other than Duke, will get a chance to be No. 1 between now and March.