Most times, November rankings don't mean anything, but the next AP Poll might just be exactly what each Duke basketball player needs to see.
The No. 1 rule for any No. 1 team is to pay no attention to the hype that comes with the ranking. But one exception to the rule should be the current Duke basketball team.
Following No. 2 Duke's 105-54 home win over Central Arkansas on Tuesday night -- coinciding with No. 1 Kentucky's embarrassing home loss to Evansville -- barring either a hiccup at home against Georgia State on Friday at 7 p.m. (ACCN) or a spectacular win this week from another top-five team, the Blue Devils will be No. 1 when the next AP Poll comes out on Monday.
Assuming this happens, 40th-year Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will have guided the program to the top spot at some point during 20 different seasons. Assuming this happens, the current team will have reached a ranking that neither Krzyzewski's first national champion nor his last two ever reached.
Finally, assuming this happens, the Blue Devils would be wise to believe the ranking reflects the truth. After all, though a few of Coach K's previous 19 teams to have held the top spot have flamed out by March, they were each at least a worthy short-term holder of the No. 1 title (they collectively averaged 31 wins per season, compared to an average of 24 wins between his 20 teams that were never No. 1).
The one thing this Duke squad needs most is the alpha-dog mentality that comes with being No. 1. And since none of the players appear to be prima donnas, a sip of No. 1 juice shouldn't pose any threats from purely self-absorbed goals.
In fact, the one thing all four freshmen specifically need most is a touch more swagger to their steps, which would thereby help to extinguish the currently noticeable hesitancy in their moves and second-guessing in their shot attempts.
For example, though freshman guard Cassius Stanley is displaying the most confidence of the bunch -- averaging 15.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, and a couple of Zion-esque finishes per game -- his stellar mark of 81.8 percent shooting from the field suggests he might be playing it a bit too safe in terms of shot selection.
And the same goes for freshman forward Matthew Hurt in terms of 3-point attempts. Including his 3-for-3 mark against Central Arkansas, the silky smooth, quick-release sharpshooter is now 7-for-14 from downtown for the season. Based on this percentage and his five-star reputation in high school, he should now feel enough confidence in a Duke basketball jersey to be popping off shots from deep at every inch of opportunity -- at least until his season 3-point percentage drops below 40 percent.
Moving on, even though freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. rarely played down low in high school, he obviously has the necessary size and innate footwork to get the job done. All he needs to do is play like he's the killer beast for the nation's No. 1 team in order to expel the hint of inner doubt that comes across in his interviews and the occasional passiveness that seems to stem from his fear of getting into foul trouble.
Meanwhile, freshman forward Wendell Moore has been the slowest to come out of his shell -- eight total turnovers compared to only 10 total buckets. But he came into his own as the team's primary ball-handler/traffic director/defensive leader against Central Arkansas after Tre Jones exited in the first half. If he knows he can be an on-call point guard for a No. 1 team -- and seriously challenge Jones for the title of the team's top defender -- then the game on offense should continue to slow down for him as a result.
Speaking of Jones -- the sophomore point guard banged heads with a Central Arkansas player and did not play the rest of the way as a precaution -- all he needs is the opportunity to embrace being the nation's best defender and floor general who just so happens to lead the nation's best team.
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The one thing the juniors, seniors, and sophomore wing Joey Baker need most is the opportunity to follow such a leader and complement the more naturally talented freshmen by embracing the fact that they are each playing an important role for the No. 1 squad in all the land.
And these upperclassmen just need to know that any of the 10 Blue Devils currently averaging double-digit minutes -- and possibly even senior co-captain Justin Robinson under certain foul-related scenarios -- could at any point provide the spark or dagger the team may need to stay No. 1.
As a unit, Duke just needs to recognize that its scrambles, dives, and unselfish acts on both ends will not only continue to mirror the most legendary teams in Durham of old but could also equate to enough firepower to make their time atop the poll an extended -- possibly even permanent -- stay.
As a unit, the Blue Devils with NBA aspirations just need to individually recognize that by staying at No. 1 and proving they are collectively worthy of the billing, they will max out their individual billings -- i.e., where they appear on mock drafts.
They don't have to be pretty in their execution. They don't all have to be sweet shooters. They don't have to worry about which guys get the most minutes. They don't have to worry who leads the team in scoring (the top five averaging between 10 and 15 points, as is the case right now, is ideal).
They need to continue to gel by being themselves -- on defense, their specialty, they've been good enough to force more turnovers (67) than the number of buckets they've allowed (59). And they need to sell themselves on the fact that being themselves makes them the nation's best.
Simple as all that. Simple as buying the current hype.