|UNC, Wake and now Duke: Tobacco Road's No. 1s|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 27 January 2009 09:38|
Love them or hate them, the Blue Devils are back in the top spot.
In the past month, North Carolina and Wake Forest stumbled from that perch, clearing the way for Duke to claim No. 1 for the first time since 2006. Naturally, one of the most polarizing programs in the college basketball hopes to stay on top longer than its rivals.
``We've seen the No. 1 team get knocked off the last two weeks - obviously, you can't enjoy it,'' guard Jon Scheyer said.
The Tar Heels started out as the unanimous No. 1 team, only to slip in early January when they lost their Atlantic Coast Conference opener to Boston College. The Demon Deacons jumped into the top spot last week after starting 16-0 - and promptly lost their first game at No. 1, an upset loss to Virginia Tech.
Now, as a result of a quirk in the schedule Duke's season debut at No. 1 comes on the road Wednesday night against last week's top-ranked team - Wake Forest, now is No. 6.
every team,'' said Wake Forest forward James Johnson said.
This marks the fourth time in the 59-year history of the Associated Press poll that three teams from the same conference have reached No. 1 - and the first time all three were from the same state. Supporters of the ACC claim that speaks to the league's top-to-bottom strength, while its critics argue that the top-ranked teams' losses to unranked teams indicates they may have been overrated.
``It says a lot about our league to have three teams exchange the No. 1 position - it's something to be proud of,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
Of course, now the Blue Devils (18-1, 5-0) want to hang on to the top spot for a while - especially since there aren't many current players who know what it feels like.
Duke reached No. 1 at least once in every season from 1997-98 to 2003-04. Only one player - backup point guard Greg Paulus - logged significant minutes on the school's most recent top-ranked team, the 2005-06 squad that was led by J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.
Duke's first No. 1 ranking since then has come as a result of a 10-game winning streak that most recently included victories over North Carolina State and Maryland. The Blue Devils beat the Terrapins by 41 points - their worst loss under coach Gary Williams - and made Duke's ascent to the top spot a mere formality.
``We feel like we're one of the best teams in the country,'' swingman Gerald Henderson said. ``People, I guess, with the No. 1 spot, think we're the best team in the country, and that's fine. In terms of our season, it doesn't mean much because that won't help us until we get to the NCAA tournament.''
The Blue Devils haven't climbed this high in years, but they know all about heading in the other direction.
Last year's team rose to No. 2 in the poll before losing five of its last 11 games. The season before that was marked by a pair of four-game losing streaks - one of which dropped Duke out of the Top 25 for the first time since 1996, ending a 200-week run in the poll. In neither of those seasons did the Blue Devils make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
``The main thing that it does is, it gives us experience. ... We know how long the season is,'' Scheyer said. ``So for us being ranked No. 1 at this point is something we haven't had before. But obviously, we know it can tail off. We know how it can go, so we want to keep our foot on the pedal.''