Duke falls out of the Top 10 - but don't panic!

Now that the college football season has officially ended, most sports fans are starting to shift their focus to college basketball, and I imagine most conversations this morning went like this:

"Wow, what a game last night, huh?"

"I know, I'm still trying to recover. Is there anything good on tonight?"


"Oh yeah, that's right! College basketball's on! Who's good this year?"

*checking rankings*

"Well Arizona's number one...how is Wisconsin number four?!?...wait, Duke's 16th? Even with that good kid?"

"No, that can't be right. Are you sure you're not reading the women's rankings?"

While I realize Duke's women's team is ranked much higher than the men's squad (number three, to be exact), I have to imagine some people had this reaction when the new rankings came out yesterday.

The reason this shock comes is because following their loss over the weekend to Notre Dame, the Blue Devils are not in the top-10 for the first time since November 26, 2007.

Do you even remember what you were doing in November 2007? Bush was still President!!

That 122-week stint is the second longest of all time, falling behind that of John Wooden's UCLA teams that lasted 155 weeks from Nov. 1966 to Jan. 1976.

It's perhaps even more shocking is that this Duke team is widely considered to be Coach Mike Krzyzewski's most talented team since the early 2000's (teams led by Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick, etc), and they have the best player in America! (Jabari Parker).

Before Duke fans start panicking and we start calling the Blue Devils overrated, let's slow down a little bit.

Duke has an 11-3 record, with losses coming to Kansas, Arizona, and Notre Dame (more on this game later). The Kansas loss is looking worse and worse as the Jayhawks struggle and teams figure out stud freshman Andrew Wiggins can't shoot consistently, but at the time the Jayhawks were playing at close to their full potential. As for the Wildcats, they look like the most complete team in the country and the game against the Devils could've gone either way.

However, don't forget that Coach K & Co. also have convincing wins over Michigan and UCLA. While neither of those teams are ranked, both will be major factors in March.

Now let's get to Saturday's loss. Is it bad Notre Dame won after losing their best player? Yes. Is it bad to lose to a team that was 9-4 with losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State? Absolutely.

But think about everything that was wrong with that game. For one, Notre Dame was pumped for hosting their first ever ACC game - and it was against Duke, who everyone loves to hate. Second, Jabari Parker played the worst game he will play for the next 20 years. Third, Coach K compounded on that by not playing him down the stretch (Did he deserve to play? Probably not, but you can NOT take your best player out of the end of a tight game). And fourth, Notre Dame has the type of lineup that matches up well with Duke - experienced guards who can shoot and multiple skilled big men.

With all that being said, it STILL took a 20-4 run by the Irish to close the game and win by two. That's not going to happen very often.

Everything else, we already knew. Duke is small, has to really work to rebound effectively, and can rely too much on jump shots. While the small thing isn't going to change, the other factors have been addressed and have improved steadfastly from the start of the season. All you can really say is that Duke needs to simply play better, which they have shown they can in pretty much every other game they've played.

This was simply just a blip in the radar, a bump in the road.

And there were plenty of things to take away from that game. The defense still needs to improve, but it has gotten (and will continue to get) a lot better. Quinn Cook has found his rhythm and is playing like one of the best point guards in the country.

But perhaps most importantly is that Duke learned they do not have two alpha dogs in Parker and Rodney Hood. They have a Michael Jordan (Parker), and a Scottie Pippen (Hood).

Hood has been playing extremely well of late, including 27 points against the Irish on Saturday, and is averaging 18 points and 5 rebounds per game.

Yet in the last 12 minutes, when his team needed him with Parker struggling, he hit four free throws, was 0-3 from the field, and one amazingly inept turnover with three seconds left.

While a majority of Duke's games haven't been close, this trend of Hood shying away and/or coming up short late in tight games has become alarming. Which is fine, aslong as you know this and play around it, which I expect Coach K to start doing.

So when the Devils face Georgia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight, don't panic Duke fans.

The best coach in America is still on your sidelines, the best player in America is still on the court wearing your jersey, and you're team is still one of the most talented teams in the country.

But now they have the extra motivation and focus to be great.

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