The Duke Blue Devils are set to make history this afternoon. Already established as one of the best programs in men's college basketball, the Blue Devils can set the Atlantic Coast Conference record for the longest winning streak in conference play when they play Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Duke has won 27 consecutive ACC games, tying the 24-year-old record established by North Carolina State. Led by David Thompson, the Wolfpack set the mark from 1972 to 1975, when there were seven teams in the conference.
Although a victory today would give Duke a place in the record books, Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski said this streak is not terribly special to him.
"I guess it says something to somebody, but it is not one of the things I've ever focused on," said Krzyzewski, who has guided Duke to eight Final Four appearances and national championships in 1991 and 1992. "It's not like it is streaks of Final Fours or national championships. Number of games won in a row is significant, but it is not a big deal for me. I have never used it as motivation for the team, and I will not."
Krzyzewski does not need to. The Blue Devils (14-2, 5-0) have proven their ability to motivate themselves. Despite losing three nonseniors to the NBA from last season's 37-2 NCAA runner-up team, they have established themselves as a national title contender.
Senior swingman Chris Carrawell and junior forward Shane Battier have elevated their games and demonstrated they can be leaders. Freshmen Carlos Boozer, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward who was limited early in the season after returning from a broken foot; Jason Williams, the starting point guard; Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Nick Horvath have quickly blended into an eight-player rotation that has allowed the Blue Devils to remain atop the ACC -- something the older players know isn't easy.
"Until you experience the atmosphere in places like [Virginia's] University Hall or [Maryland's] Cole Field House, until you bleed the blood, you can't appreciate what it is like," Battier said. "When we put on the Duke uniform, we go to another level. The opponents are like bulls, and we are wearing red. People want to beat us because we are Duke."
The Blue Devils have won 14 consecutive games since starting the season with losses to No. 3 Stanford and No. 8 Connecticut -- the first time Duke has begun 0-2 since 1958-59. The scary thing for opponents is that Duke has accomplished this even though Elton Brand and William Avery left after their sophomore seasons last spring and Corey Maggette left after just one season; all three -- as well as graduating senior Trajan Langdon -- were among the first 14 players taken in last June's NBA draft.
"I think it is a remarkable job, I really do," Wake Forest Coach Dave Odom said. "It speaks to the leadership of the staff and the leadership of guys like Battier and Carrawell. Somehow or another, they have gotten their players to play with a certain confidence that has been hard to chip away at. They play off each other very well, play fearlessly and play with confidence. That's the sign of a championship team."
For Battier, being an impact player was a personal goal after averaging 8.4 points per game over his first two seasons. He is averaging 15.4 points per game this season, second on the team to Carrawell's 17.9.
"Last year, my role was to be a role player and play defense and rebound, because we had so many great offensive weapons," Battier said recently. "This year, it has really opened up opportunities for me to show that I am a pretty good offensive player, too. So I really jumped at the chance at getting more shots and becoming an offensive threat."
"I think I have shown I'm not an offensive derelict," Battier added. "I think people were wondering the first two years why Duke gave me a scholarship when I didn't score much. But I've always had confidence in myself and I'm happy with my progression."
There have been a few close calls during the streak. On Wednesday night, the Blue Devils trailed in the last minute of regulation before defeating North Carolina State, 92-88, in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium. On Jan. 5, in its ACC opener, Duke trailed by 10 points late in the second half before rallying for a 109-100 overtime victory against Virginia in Charlottesville.
For the most part, though, the Blue Devils have been dominant. Not counting the two overtime games, Duke's average margin of victory during the streak is 20.2 points; 22 of the 27 victories have been by at least 10 points.
Those statistics may be somewhat deceiving because the ACC is not considered to be as strong as it has been in past seasons. It sent just three teams to the NCAA tournament last season, its fewest since 1979, and just three ACC teams are in this week's Associated Press media top 25, with Duke the only one among the top 20. (In the final AP rankings of the 1996-97 season, five ACC teams were in the top 25, including four in the top 14.) However, opposing coaches believe the streak is a significant feat.
"Whatever Duke does anymore does not shock me one bit," said Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins, whose 19 seasons as a head coach in the conference are second to Krzyzewski's 20. "Mike and I came into the league almost at the same time. His accomplishments are mind-blowing. Anything that Duke does anymore does not surprise me at all. They are probably the team of the last decade."
Last season, Duke became the first team to go 16-0 in the ACC since the conference expanded to nine teams before the 1991-92 season. Now, the Blue Devils want to become the first team to do it twice.
"People say this is a different year," Carrawell said. "They say, `Last year, you had Elton and Trajan [Langdon] and those other guys.' But this year, we've still got Carrawell and Battier and Nate James. We're still here. We're still Duke."
Special correspondent Paul Ensslin, in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.
The Duke men's basketball team can set the Atlantic Coast Conference record for consecutive regular season victories today.
Most Consecutive Regular Season Victories by an ACC Team vs. ACC Opponents:
27 Duke 1998 to present
27 N.C. State 1972 to 1975
26 Duke 1962 to 1964
22 North Carolina 1983 to 1985
19 Wake Forest 1962 to 1963
The Blue Devils also are closing on two other ACC consecutive-victory records.
Most Consecutive Overall Victories by an ACC Team vs. ACC Opponents:
33* N.C. State 1973 to 1975
28 Duke 1963 to 1964
25 North Carolina 1957 to 1958
24 Duke 1999 to present
*Includes regular season ACC wins, Big Four and ACC tournament wins.
Most Consecutive ACC Road Victories:
15* Duke 1962 to 1964
14 Duke 1998 to present
*Includes one ACC tournament win over N.C. State in the 1963 ACC tournament, when it was played at Reynolds Coliseum.