DURHAM, N.C. - The numbers just weren't supposed to add up for Duke this season.
Coming off one of the more dominating years in college basketball history, the Blue Devils had four players - including three underclassmen - taken in the first round of the NBA draft, leaving them with seven freshmen.
But after losing to No. 3 Stanford and No. 8 Connecticut to open the season, Duke has reeled off 13 straight wins heading into tonight's Atlantic Coast Conference game with North Carolina State (the game can be seen live in Juneau at 3 p.m. on ESPN).
The Blue Devils can tie the record of 27 straight ACC regular season wins with a victory over the Wolfpack in Cameron Indoor Stadium. N.C. State set the mark from 1972-75 with the great David Thompson.
``What Duke has accomplished certainly entitles them to proclaim they are among the best programs in the country in modern basketball history,'' said Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek, a former Kentucky assistant. ``They have been able to maintain it over time with a few speed bumps along the way.''
Coach Mike Krzyzewski had to bring this year's club along slowly, especially on defense. But the No. 5 Blue Devils are beginning to gain a head of steam similar to last year's dominating 37-2 club that went a record 16-0 in the ACC and reached the NCAA championship game.
``Are they the same team as last year? No, but let me tell you something,'' said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, ``they're not that far behind.''
Duke leads the ACC in scoring (89.8 points a game) and winning margin (21.5). Just last week, the Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech 82-57 and Florida State 85-54.
What makes the road victory over the Seminoles even more impressive was Duke trailed by two at halftime. That's the same kind of offensive explosion the team exhibited last year with the likes of departed stars Elton Brand, William Avery, Corey Maggette and Trajan Langdon of Anchorage.
The constants at Duke have been Krzyzewski and the work ethic he demands and receives from his players, including freshman center Carlos Boozer Jr. of Juneau. After a slow start because of a preseason broken foot, Boozer led Duke in scoring in the Florida State game with 21 points and has twice been named the ACC's Freshman of the Week. Boozer is averaging 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the season, with averages of 17.0 points and 8.3 rebounds over Duke's last seven games.
``We work as hard or harder than last year because we know we could lose every game,'' said Chris Carrawell, the lone senior in Duke's top eight players. ``Last year's team was like, `OK, we're up by 30, we can coast.' We've been in more close games this year than since I've been here. That's why we play so hard because at any given time we're talented, but we're not that talented that we can't lose.''
Carrawell and junior defensive stopper Shane Battier were challenged by Krzyzewski in the preseason to pick up major scoring and leadership roles. The pair hasn't disappointed their coach. Carrawell is averaging more than 17 points a game, Battier 15 on a team that boosts six double-digit scorers.
``We're a much better driving team this year,'' Battier said of the team's offense engineered by freshman point guard Jason Williams, who averages 15 points, five assists and five rebounds.
``I would say that our 3-pointers this year are much more opportunistic. When we're open we're a pretty good 3-point shooting team, but we don't have the hand-inyour-face shooters we had last year with Trajan and William.''
Duke is off to a 4-0 ACC start with three road wins already under its belt. And with North Carolina just 5-5 in its last 10 games and Maryland at 0-3 in the league, the Blue Devils are once again - quicker than you can say the words `talented freshmen' - the ACC favorites.
``I have been in this league for 20 years and I know how precious an ACC win is,'' said Krzyzewski, now 482-157 in Durham. ``Any kind of a streak, whether it be two or what, we feel real fortunate.
``We've come ready to play every ball game,'' he added. ``At least you have to give yourself a chance to win by coming ready to play.''