The best, and most simplistic, way to measure the greatness of a college basketball program is to count the banners hanging in its home arena.
There are five of those proclaiming national championships at Cameron Indoor Stadium, including one from last spring, so Duke’s bona fides in this area are clear.
Another more complicated way to demonstrate a run of greatness is to point out in unpleasant times the rarity of such hiccups. One is upon the Blue Devils now thanks to a three-game losing streak stemming from a perilously shallow roster that was remade on the fly last offseason.
Duke (14-5, 3-3 ACC) dropped its games to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse by a combined 11 points, and a healthy Amile Jefferson surely would have made a difference in at least one of them. Instead, the Blue Devils are left with an array of “first time since …” benchmarks they could do without.
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▪ Monday’s 64-62 setback against Syracuse was the first time Duke was held to less than 65 points in any home game, regardless of result, since a 61-58 defeat of Virginia on Jan. 12, 2012.
▪ First three-game losing streak since 2007, when the Blue Devils experienced a pair of four-game slides, including one that featured losses to Maryland, North Carolina, N.C. State and Virginia Commonwealth to close out the season.
▪ First back-to-back home losses since February 2007. Duke fell to Al Thornton and Florida State on Super Bowl Sunday before dropping a six-point decision to North Carolina three days later.
▪ First time with 62 or fewer points in a home loss since a 62-61 setback against Michigan on Dec. 8, 1996.
▪ First time with three consecutive losses to unranked teams since 1995. Those were the last three of a season-long six-game losing streak, which the Blue Devils capped with a double-overtime loss to Virginia, a 17-point blowout at the hands of N.C. State and a three-point setback at Florida State. Side note: Those remain the last victories for N.C. State and Virginia at Cameron.
When a forgettable week like the one Duke just endured is clearly a once-a-decade phenomenon, it should make it a little more bearable. And if that fails? Viewing it for what it is – the cost of unfurling that fifth national championship banner thanks to the reliance on exceptional one-and-done talents Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow.
Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson scored 31 points off the bench in Saturday’s victory at Duke. Who are the other three active ACC players to produce 30-point games in a reserve role during their college careers?
Tar Heels’ big 5-0
It was a bit surprising to learn North Carolina’s 5-0 start in ACC play is its first since 2001, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. After all, the Tar Heels have won their first five league games only three times since running the table in the ACC regular season in 1987 (the other 5-0 start came in 1993, when North Carolina won the national title).
Five other schools produced 5-0 starts in ACC play in the 15 years between the Tar Heels doing so, including five times by Duke: 9-0 in 2004, 5-0 in 2005, 14-0 in 2006, 10-0 in 2008 and 5-0 in 2009. Boston College (5-0 in 2007), Miami (13-0 in 2013), Syracuse (12-0 in 2014) and Virginia (7-0 in 2015) also pulled it off.
Of those nine teams, only four (2004 Duke, 2006 Duke, 2013 Miami and 2015 Virginia) went on to claim the top seed in the ACC tournament. There were also four that would go on to win the ACC tournament (2005, 2006 and 2009 Duke and 2013 Miami).
In addition to Bonzie Colson’s 31-point day at Duke on Saturday, the other three active ACC players with 30-point outings off the bench in their careers are Duke’s Grayson Allen (30 points against Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 20), Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs (31 points against Grambling on Dec. 19) and Virginia Tech’s Jalen Hudson (32 points against Wake Forest in last year’s ACC tournament).