Duke is back atop the ACC, and hopes that it’s improved enough to avoid another collapse.
The fourth-ranked Blue Devils will be trying for their sixth straight win Thursday when they visit Virginia Tech.
Duke (15-1, 3-0) is the only team in the ACC without a conference loss, and owns the highest ranking in the league after North Carolina fell from No. 1 to No. 5 following its first loss of the season Saturday. The Blue Devils’ only defeat this season was a 65-64 overtime loss to then-No. 11 Pittsburgh on Dec. 20.
Of course, fast starts are nothing new to the Blue Devils - they were 13-1 last season, but fell 69-67 in overtime to Virginia Tech on Jan. 6 in their conference opener. Duke stumbled to a 22-11 finish and suffered its first opening-round NCAA tournament loss in a decade.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves at all,” sophomore guard Jon Scheyer said. “We’ve been successful so far, but we have a long way to go, and for us, to experience the losses we had last year, we know (how quickly) it can change.”
Duke, however, looks to have made significant strides from last season.
The arrival of freshmen Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Taylor King has given the Blue Devils the depth to run a more up-tempo offense. Duke ranks second to North Carolina in the ACC with 85.0 points per game and is third in the nation with an average scoring margin of 20.9 points.
“It’s been more fun just because transition basketball has been something that I’ve played my whole life,” guard Gerald Henderson said. “Just getting out on the break and stuff like that, we didn’t really do that last year, and that’s something that we’ve added.”
Duke’s quicker tempo has helped it overcome a lack of size. Clemson outrebounded the Blue Devils 42-26 on Saturday, but Duke converted 21 turnovers into 37 points and pulled out a 93-80 win.
“It’s tough for us to score just inside, and we’re better when we’re pushing it,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We told them, ‘Just keep pushing it.’”
DeMarcus Nelson, who leads Duke with 14.3 points per game, had 24 against the then-No. 24 Tigers, while Singler chipped in 17.
Duke leads the series with Virginia Tech 32-7, but has lost two of the last four meetings, including a 67-65 defeat in Blacksburg on Feb. 17, 2005. The Hokies are 7-0 at home this season.
Virginia Tech (11-7, 2-2) fell 81-70 at Georgia Tech on Saturday after consecutive one-point wins. The Hokies beat Virginia 70-69 in overtime on a basket at the buzzer by Deron Washington last Wednesday, and defeated Maryland 67-66 on a free throw from Jeff Allen on Jan. 12.
Washington scored 15 points against the Yellow Jackets, and Allen added 13 before being ejected for arguing his fifth personal foul with 4:32 left. On his way to the bench, Allen bumped or elbowed official Zelton Steed, resulting in a two-game suspension.
Allen, second on the team with 12.8 points per game, and coach Seth Greenberg both apologized for the incident.
“In the heat of the moment, I let my emotions get the best of me,” Allen said in a statement. “I understand my inappropriate behavior has consequences. This isolated incident is not reflective of who I am.”
Greenberg, the 2005 ACC coach of the year who has gone 78-63 at Virginia Tech since taking over the program in 2004, had a contract extension through the 2012-13 season announced Tuesday.