A couple of firsts for both Duke and North Carolina on the same day, as the Blue Devils were not included in the AP Top 25 rankings for the first time since the preseason rankings of the 2007-2008 season, while the Tar Heels, losing 71-65 at Louisville, were beaten for the first time this season in ACC play.
But in a nation obsessed with rankings that in college basketball really don’t mean anything, the Duke news, also thanks to the fact that so many people despise the program (mostly for being successful), seem to be more important. They’re just 15-6 this season and 4-4 in the ACC, losing four of their last five games, including by 11 points at Miami when they last played. They had a streak of 167 consecutive polls of being in the top 25, the fourth longest in college basketball history.
While there’s talent on this Duke team, it seems that replacing the Jahlil Okafor class of freshmen has been very difficult, and just like it happens in Kentucky, putting all your eggs in the one-and-done basket year after year eventually leads to bad or at least more difficult seasons. Not that Duke regret winning the national championship last season. However, no one expected this kind of season, with Mike Krzyzewski suddenly doing all that he can to try and calm everyone doing, suggesting his team wasn’t that good to begin with.
Luckily for them their next game is against a 2-6 Georgia Tech, although on the road, in conference play, a lot of things can happen. Duke still have two games against North Carolina this season, an intense rivalry they’ve dominated in the last two years, although they still have very difficult games against Louisville and Virginia before crossing that bridge.
And on to the big rivals down the road. After 12 consecutive wins, the number two ranked Tar Heels lost. They were beaten 71-65 by number 19 Louisville, who are now one game behind the 8-1 Tar Heels. The North Carolina backcourt couldn’t get anything to drop for them, as Marcus Paige and Joe Berry combined to shot 4-of-23 from the field, meaning Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson scoring 31 together couldn’t help. Louisville turned it into their own game in front of 22,781 fans, led by Damion Lee who scored 24 points.
Things don’t get easier right away for North Carolina, playing Notre Dame on the road before an easier (on paper) game at Boston College. The schedule still consists of Miami, Pitt, twice Duke and Virginia on the road among others, so that 8-0 start can quickly turn into a much less impressive conference season, while North Carolina are hoping to finish first in the ACC for the first time since 2012.