Duke's current home winning streak has flown somewhat under the national radar.
The Blue Devils currently have won 27 straight games in Cameron since a loss to North Carolina in the 2012 regular season finale. That's the longest active home winning streak in college basketball - Florida has won 26 straight in the O'Connell Center (the Gators will go for No. 27 Saturday, the same day Duke bids for No. 28 against FSU).
Duke's 27-game home winning streak is the eighth longest home win streak in ACC history. The Blue Devils have five of the top eight longest streaks, including the top three. Here's the list:
1. Duke (1998-00) 46
2. Duke (2009-12) 45
3. Duke (2002-04) 41
4. N.C. State (1972-75) 38
5. Duke (1991-93) 36
6. Virginia (1980-83) 34
7. Clemson (1988-91) 29
8. Duke (2012-current) 27
It's worth noting that two of Duke's four longest homecourt winning streaks coincide with national championships. So does N.C. State's 38-game streak.
The longest streak in Duke and ACC history centered around the 1999 team that won 37 games and lost a heartbreaker to UConn in the title game. The third longest streak included a team that finished No. 1 in the AP poll and played in the Final Four. The Virginia team on the list centered around the Ralph Sampson teams and included a Final Four trip in 1981. Only Clemson's 29-game streak came from a team that failed to make a deep NCAA run - and those Dale Davis/Elden Campbell Tigers did win the ACC regular season title in 1990.
It remains to be seen what Duke will make of its current streak - and how long it will last. By an interesting coincidence, Florida State - which visits Cameron Saturday - ended Duke's second-longest home win streak in 2012 … just one game short of tying the school and conference records.
That was an odd season. Duke went 8-0 on the road in the ACC, but lost three times in Cameron. First, Florida State won on a last-second 3-pointer by Michael Snaer. Then, Miami pulled out a win in overtime as Reggie Johnson bullied Duke's inside men. Finally, UNC avenged their earlier loss in Chapel Hill (on Austin Rivers' dagger) with a fairly convincing 88-70 victory in the regular season finale.
Those three home losses represent Duke's only home failures in a five and a half season period. The Devils have won 76 of 79 home games in that span.
Not all were great performances.
We all remember the near-disaster against Vermont early this season. Rhode Island made the Devils sweat in an early season game in 2008-09. Belmont took Duke to the wire in the 2011-12 opener. In conference, there have been thrilling wins over N.C. State in 2012 (when Duke rallied from 20 down with 11 minutes to play) and last week's heart-stopping victory over Virginia.
On the other hand, the streak includes quite a few outstanding performances, including wins over two top-five teams: No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Miami.
Florida State won't be ranked when they visit Cameron Saturday, but the Seminoles do present a real threat to end Duke's streak.
Leonard Hamilton's team has been playing great basketball since the first of December - with the exception of two meetings with Virginia. Don't know why the Cavaliers are FSU's kryptonite, but against everybody else, the 'Noles have been ferocious defenders and surprisingly good (for a Hamilton-coached team) offensively.
This is a team that holds a lopsided win over then No. 10 ranked VCU and a solid neutral court victory over then No. 22 UMass. They lost to Michigan in overtime on a neutral court and went to Florida and lost a one-point heartbreaker in the O'Connell Center. Since a 10-point loss at Minnesota on Dec. 3, the 'Noles have battered everybody (except Virginia).
Of course, intense defense has been Hamilton's staple at FSU - the reason he won the ACC in 2012 and finished in the top four of the ACC every season between 2009 and 2012. A year ago, he had to rely on too many freshmen and the result was a mediocre defensive team and a mediocre ACC record (9-9).
But those kids have grown up and have demonstrated their grasp of Hamilton's defensive scheme.
One oddity about Hamilton's rotation - he started the same five players every game -- and that lineup does not include his two top scorers: senior guard Ian Miller (13.4 ppg.) and sophomore wing Aaron Thomas (12.6) vome off the bench. But they both average just under 28 minutes a game, so they'll see plenty of action.
Thomas and senior forward Okaro White are the team's two best individual defenders. The 6-8 White will almost certainly draw the assignment to guard Jabari Parker.
Duke will be favored, but FSU certainly has a chance to snap the Devils' home winning streak.
The next eight days will be very important for Duke's positioning itself for postseason.
The new 15-team ACC Tournament has borrowed the old convoluted format used by the Big East - which means six teams will have to win five games to win the ACC championships, five teams will have to win four games in a row, while four teams will need to win just three games.
It's obviously important to be one of those four teams that earn byes directly into the quarterfinals on Friday.
As of today, Duke is involved in a three-way tiebreaker with Clemson and FSU for fourth place (Syracuse, Pitt and Virginia are 1-2-3). As things now stand, FSU would win fourth seed (1-0 vs. Clemson and Duke), Clemson would be the No. 5 seed (1-1 against FSU and Duke) and Duke would be the No. 6 seed (0-1 against Clemson and FSU).
That would mean that Duke would play a first-round game at 9:30 p.m. Thursday night against the winner of the Thursday game between the No. 11 and No. 14 seeds (today, that would be Georgia Tech vs. Boston College).
Of course, it's much too early to figure out the tournament pairings with six weeks of games left in the regular season. I only did it to point out how significant it is that Duke improves its standing to secure a top four seed for the tournament.
That's not the only concern.
It's very important that Duke secure a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Well, for one reason, it means that Duke won't have to pull an upset to reach the Sweet 16. More significantly, it could have everything to do with NCAA location.
The NCAA will play first and second rounds in Raleigh's RBC Center. Okay, technically the "first round" is (are?) the play-in games in Dayton … what we'll see in Raleigh are officially second and third round games.
If the NCAA Selection Committee follows its own rules (and they don't always do that), Duke could only earn a spot in Raleigh if the Devils are a top four seed. According to their guidelines, that higher seeded teams should not have to face hostile crowds in the first two rounds. If, say No. 4 seed Oklahoma State were backeted to play No. 5 seed Duke in Raleigh, the Blue Devils would have a significant homecourt advantage.
If it were the other way around -- No. 4 seed Duke vs. No. 5 seed Oklahoma State - that would be okay … the thinking is that the higher seeded team earned that advantage.
The higher seed the better - both because it would theoretically mean an easier path to the Final Four and also because it would reduce the chances of Duke beating bumped out of the Raleigh sub-regional.
The higher seeds get the breaks. If for instance Virginia ended as a No. 2 seed and UNC passed Duke and became a No. 3 seed, even if the Devils were a No. 4 seed, they would be bumped to another subregional (just two top four seeds per subregional sites).
So it's important for Duke to earn as high a seed as possible.
Just to make it clear, playing the first two rounds at home does not make it a lock (Duke's loss to Lehigh in Greensboro two years ago proves that), but the Devils do have a significantly better NCAA record in North Carolina (86.5 percent) than outside the state (69.9 percent).
Right now, it's hard to predict where Duke would stand in the eyes of the Selection Committee. The Devils currently are No. 11 in Pomeroy, No. 11 in Sagarin, No. 16 in the RPI, No. 18 in the AP and No. 18 in the Coaches Poll.
Joe Lunardi currently has Duke as a No. 4 seed playing its first two games in San Diego (he has No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Iowa State in Raleigh). Jerry Palm, who usually knows his stuff, has Duke as a No. 5 seed in San Diego … but he has the Devils bracketed with fellow ACC member No. 4 Pittsburgh … and the only way that happens is if the ACC pits nine teams in the field (and Palm doesn't have that happening).
Actually, he has just six ACC teams in the field - and that includes UNC as one of the play-in teams. But he has three ACC teams in the same regional - Pitt No. 4, Duke No. 5 and Virginia No. 8 in the Midwest Region.
That ain't going to happen.
Still, it's clear that Duke is - at the moment -- on the border between being a No. 4 and No. 5 seed.
That's what makes the next three games so important.
The RPI, which is the metric most favored by the Selection Committee, currently sees Duke with three top 50 wins (No. 19 Michigan, No. 24 Virginia and No. 29 UCLA) and seven top 100 wins. The next three games are against top 50 RPI teams - No. 20 Florida State, No. 12 Pitt and No. 7 Syracuse.
Duke could significantly boost its standing in both the human polls and the computer rankings with a strong eight days. Of course, it could go the other way.
One final note: While the RPI is the committee's favorite tool, there's some evidence that over the years, the human polls are a better predictor of the top seeds. In the long run, it would help if Duke could return to its accustomed place in the top 10.
That would almost guarantee a bye to the quarterfinals in the ACC Tournament and a high enough seed in the NCAA playoffs to secure a spot in Raleigh.
The NEW WAVE OF COACHES
Between Tony Bennett's hire at Virginia before the 2010 season and James Johnson's hire at Virginia Tech before the 2013 season, the ACC has turned over nine coaches. The new wave of coaches was supposed to revitalize the stagnant middle of the ACC.
That hasn't happened. If anything, the new coaches have been worse than the men they replaced.
So far, the nine new coaches have an aggregate 22 seasons in the ACC - and they have generated five NCAA appearances (22.7 percent). Of course, you could argue that they took over struggling programs and thus require time to rebuild - and there is some truth in that - but the fact is that the previous coaches were - as a group -- more successful than their replacements. If you go back five years before each new arrival, you get an aggregate of 15 NCAA appearances in those 45 seasons (33.3 percent).
There are at least a couple of exceptions;
Miami's Jim Larranaga gave his new school the best season in Miami history in his second year. Although he's rebuilding again this season, his 'Canes have played better than expected, despite Wednesday night's loss to Duke.
Mark Gottfried has come under criticism from some Pack fans after lopsided losses to Duke and Virginia. But he does have two NCAA appearances in his first two years (and a Sweet 16 in 2012) - which is not only better than Sidney Lowe did in five years at State (no NCAA appearances), it's better than ex-coach Herb Sendek has done at Arizona State (one NCAA appearance in seven seasons).
After that, who is next?
Maybe Bennett, whose teams have been consistently competitive since his arrival - although he's had the Cavs in the NCAA Tournament just once in his first four seasons (the same as predecessor Dave Leitao had in his four years and Pete Gillen had in seven seasons). However, it does look like the Cavs will make a second NCAA trip this year and that in itself would make Bennett the most successful Virginia coach since Jeff Jones in the mid-1990s.
The three coaches who entered the league before the 2011 season have struggled to get going.
Steve Donahue made an NIT trip with Al Skinner's leftovers in his first season, then went through two painful rebuilding years with his own recruits. He seemed to making progress and a lot of people though this year's team would contend for an NCAA spot - instead the Eagles have collapsed. It's probably too early to give up on Donahue, but as of now, the program is in worse shape than it ever was under Skinner.
Brad Brownell took over a program that had been to three straight NCAA Tournaments under Oliver Purnell. He led Purnell's players to a fourth NCAA spot in 2011 and actually did something that Purnell never did - win a tournament game (although it was one of the play-in games in Dayton).
The next two years were not kind to Brownell, who led the program after five straight 20-win seasons to 16-15 and 13-18 seasons - and in both years, his best players were Purnell recruits. Now he's playing with his own players and the downward slide appears to be reversed. But it remains to be seen if Clemson's fast ACC start is real or an illusion. He's got a ways to go to match the level of the program that Purnell left him.
Jeff Bzdelik has faced a firestorm of criticism in his three-plus seasons at Wake Forest. He inherited a team that was coming off back-to-back NCAA appearances under Dino Gaudio. He promptly went 8-24 in his first season.
Now, anybody who actually understands what was going on at Wake Forest knows that Bzdelik is not solely at fault for that precipitous dropoff - any more than Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith are to blame because their first seasons were worse than their predecessor's last year. Had Gaudio stayed, Wake Forest would have struggled in 2011 - maybe not as much as Bzdelik's first team … maybe more.
Still, it's taken Bzdelik a long time to pick up the pieces in Winston-Salem. He's gone from 8 wins to back to back 13-win seasons. Actually, last year's Deacon team was a little better, winning some key games at home over the likes of Miami and N.C. State.
This year's team has taken another small step forward - already 13 wins, including a homecourt victory over UNC and the second ACC road win in 29 games under Bzdelik.
I'm not sure that's enough to mollify the frustrated Deacon fan base, but - as long as the Wake Forest sustain this level of success -- it's probably enough to earn the embattled coach one more season.
It's too early to make a final; judgment on the other three new wave coaches - with Mark Turgeon in his third year at Maryland, Brian Gregory in his third year at Georgia Tech and James Johnson in his second year at Virginia Tech.
Still, the signs aren't good - none of the three has put their ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament or had a winning record in the ACC. And although it's too early to make definitive statements, it doesn't look like that's going to happen for any of the three new wave coaches this season either.
We can let the Big Ten worry about Turgeon's incompetence.
But if the ACC is ever going to be the great conference it wants to be, the league's middle and lower echelon programs need to upgrade their coaching.