Duke back to No. 1 in the polls

Staff writerJanuary 22, 2013 

It took Duke just one week to get back to the top of the polls, as the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls released Monday. It is the fifth week this season that Duke has held the top spot.

The Blue Devils (16-1, 3-1) received 39 of 65 possible first-place votes. Michigan, ranked No. 2, received 11 first-place votes, and the remainder were split between Kansas (seven) and No. 4 Syracuse (8), which tied for the No. 3 spot.

Because there aren't any clear elite teams this year—strong cases could (and have) been made to rank Duke, Michigan, Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona and Florida at No. 1—voting is a bit tricky. Seth Davis expounded on this idea in his weekly Fast Break column, which you should read every week, if you don't already:

Each voter does their rankings a little differently. For me, it always comes down to the question of whether I should order teams based on where I think they stand, or do I let results dictate my ballot? In other words, I might think Team A is better than Team B, but if I have Team B ranked ahead and it doesn't lose, I am normally reluctant to switch things up.

For this week, at least, I decided to break off the shackles and not let my recent ballots handcuff me. So I stepped back and asked myself who was most deserving of being the number one team right now. I kept coming back to Michigan, even though the Wolverines were ranked behind Kansas and Duke on my ballot last week.

Not only did Michigan look extremely impressive while beating a top 10 team in Minnesota on the road, the Wolverines also looked real good in losing at Ohio State last weekend. They trailed the Buckeyes by 21 points with six minutes remaining in the first half. That means over the final 26 minutes, they out-scored Ohio State 45-27. I don't know that Michigan is necessarily the "best" team in America -- I don't know that there is, in fact, a single "best" team -- but it has played the best, and therefore got my nod for the top spot.

Ryan Kelly's right foot injury, which occurred during the Jan. 8 Clemson game, makes ranking Duke difficult. He is out "indefinitely," and, despite Twitter's best attempts to put a more definitive timeline on that, there isn't one. As Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski said last week, the Blue Devils are a different team without Kelly, and the impressive early-season resume that Duke built with Kelly doesn't necessarily reflect what this current team can do. Without Kelly, Duke is 1-1, losing at N.C. State and beating Georgia Tech.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski touched on this point after Thursday's win against the Yellow Jackets.

"This is a huge adjustment for us right now with Ryan being out," he said. "It’s a whole different thing, and because we are Duke everyone’s talking about redemption or struggles. Look we have a new team, whether you want to write about it or not."

So, if you're a voter, how do you handle Duke? Well, obviously, 39 voters still moved them to the No. 1 slot despite Kelly's absence. And it would be hard to imagine the Blue Devils losing that spot as long as they keep winning.

The Blue Devils will be tested Wednesday, when they travel to Miami, which checks into this week's AP poll at No. 25. It's the first time the Hurricanes have been ranked since Jan. 11 2011, and, as the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Michael Casagrande points out, it will be the first time Miami has hosted the No. 1-ranked team since Jan. 20, 1999 (a 70-68 loss to Connecticut).

Miami (13-3, 4-0), currently is ranked No. 1 in strength of schedule, right ahead of Duke. And the Hurricanes have amassed their perfect start in conference play without dominant big man Reggie Johnson, who is out with a broken thumb. Six-year senior Julian Gamble (a graduate of Durham's Southern High) has filled in admirably, especially on defense.

Duke first moved to No. 1 on Dec. 17, after Butler beat Indiana in a neutral site game. And, for the next month, that's where the Blue Devils stayed, as they to continued to build on the most impressive resume in the country (Duke ranks first in RPI and has for most of the season).

But then Ryan Kelly hurt his right ankle in a Jan. 8 victory over Clemson, and Duke went to Raleigh for its toughest conference matchup to date sans one of its best players. And, as everyone knows, Duke lost 84-76 at N.C. State and fell to No. 3 in last week's polls. But loses by previously No. 1 Louisville (70-68 to Syracuse at home) and Indiana (64-59 to Wisconsin at home) last week opened up room at the top.

Duke has been ranked No. 1 for 72 weeks since the 1997-98 season, which is eight more weeks than the next two teams on that list combined. And the Blue Devils have played more games ranked No. 1 (216) than as an unranked team (141) under Krzyzewski.

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