Duke Basketball: Is No. 1 ranking harmful, helpful, or totally meaningless?

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Does it threaten, benefit, or not affect at all the Duke basketball players now that the squad sits atop the latest AP Top 25 Poll?

The news of another Duke basketball team ranked No. 1 in the country is nothing new.

However, this time around — the latest AP Top 25 Poll was released on Monday with the Blue Devils in the top spot (48 first-place votes), trailed by Kansas (14), Gonzaga, Virginia (2), and then Tennessee (1) to round out the top five — it is fun to point out that the program has now spent a total of 135 weeks ranked No. 1, surpassing UCLA for the most ever.

It’s also fun to hope that head coach Mike Krzyzewski can guide his team to its third win of the season in its only game this week — Duke hosts Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. Wednesday — just so that by this time next week his number of weeks as coach of a top-ranked team (117) can double-up the guy who ranks second among active coaches.

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The reason this is fun is that guy is Roy Williams, who between his time at the helm of Kansas and now UNC has seen his teams ranked No. 1 during 59 weeks.

Side notes: The Tar Heels are currently ranked No. 7. In addition to Duke, Virginia, and UNC, four other ACC squads are in the top 25: Florida State (ranked No. 14), Syracuse (15), Virginia Tech (16), and Clemson (19). Kentucky, the team that suffered a 118-84 beatdown by Duke in the much-hyped season opener last Tuesday, fell from No. 2 in the preseason poll to No. 10 in this first poll released since the season began.

But now to the important questions: Is it a bad thing for these young Blue Devils — four freshmen starters have accounted for all but 40 of the team’s 212 points  — to be No. 1? If it’s not, is it a good thing? Or does it even matter?

Why it may be harmful

The Blue Devils can only go down from here. Also, the target on the team’s back as a result of being in this position is now even more visible — though as long as the team has the word “Duke” on its jerseys, regardless of ranking, a huge target will always exist.

Of course, it should also be mentioned that the ranking could give freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones (and the rest of the bunch) a false sense of accomplishment. After all, no trophies are handed out or banners hung (well, maybe in the Dean Dome) just for being at the top of any poll in November.

Why it may be helpful

Simply put, the Blue Devils have earned the ranking. What they did to Kentucky was historic, beautiful to watch, and deserving of respect.

The Fearsome Foursome — or #CamFam, #JamFam, Fabbest Five (to include fellow freshman Joey Baker), or any other nickname they have acquired or may acquire — came to Duke as a group with a goal of forming the greatest team in the history of college basketball. While they certainly aren’t there yet — Sunday’s closer-than-the-score-implies 94-72 home win over Army suggests they have plenty to work on — the No. 1 ranking could help to instill them with a beneficial sense of confidence and affirm that they are on their way to achieving their goal.

They may take pride in the ranking, inspiring them to work as hard as possible to ensure that they never have to give it up.

Why it may be meaningless

These freshmen don’t need a group of writers to tell them they are the greatest in order for them to believe it is fact. In fact, they probably don’t pay attention to the poll at all — Coach K surely has advised them not to pay much attention to any press whatsoever.

And whether they are ranked No. 1, No. 10, or not even ranked at all, Williamson will still possess a mix of supreme athleticism and learned talents that wow the entire nation. Barrett will still be a scoring machine who can also at any time take over and excel at the point. Reddish will still be a lights-out shooter from downtown and silky-smooth playmaker. Finally, Jones will still be a point guard who excels in the distribution department while rarely turning the ball over.


The No. 1 ranking is mostly meaningless for these Blue Devils. That being said, it does seem to be where they most belong at the moment.

It’s also fitting due to the fact that the ranking matches the jersey number of Duke’s best player — in the mind of this writer — who seems to appear in at least nine out of 10 headlines written about the squad. And there’s no doubt — again, in the mind of this writer — that Zion, the story of college basketball this season, deserves to always be associated with only one number.

Next. Celebrities who must be loving this No. 1 team. dark

That’s tough for even Tar Heel fans to deny — though some (likely the same ones who adore and hype so many of those meaningless banners hanging in Chapel Hill) will surely try.