Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke squad started the year ranked No. 8 in the AP poll.
There was definitely talent on the roster with Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee returning, but there were also plenty of question marks surrounding a team that lost to Lehigh in its first game of the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils, along with everyone else, were looking up at Indiana when those initial rankings were released. The Hoosiers seemed to be the one team in the nation that people didn’t have any hesitation about at all.
If you happened to catch Indiana’s 24-point thrashing of North Carolina on Tuesday, you know exactly why voters felt that way.
Typically when the No. 1 team in the nation continues to win, it maintains a steady grasp on that top spot. However, Duke has slowly been gaining ground on the Hoosiers and actually picked up 18 first-place votes in the most recent AP poll.
What’s more, those votes were garnered before the Blue Devils beat the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on Wednesday night.
So who should be No. 1 when the next AP poll is released on Monday?
The case for Indiana is fairly cut and dried. The Hoosiers were presumably the best team in the nation heading into the season, and they have done nothing to really disprove that notion.
Furthermore, Indiana has played without 6'8" forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and 7'0" center Peter Jurkin thus far due to NCAA suspensions. Neither of those players is as important as a Cody Zeller or Christian Watford, but they provide Tom Crean with critical depth and muscle in the paint.
Indiana made its best argument for retaining that top ranking on Tuesday with its dominating victory over North Carolina. We are certainly not used to seeing that type of performance against Roy Williams’ Tar Heel squads.
Despite that impressive showing and a 7-0 record, Crean and the Hoosiers should be No. 2 in the next AP poll. And that’s not a knock on Indiana—Duke has just been unbelievable.
In fact, the Blue Devils have accumulated an entire season’s worth of quality nonconference victories before December has even started.
Duke beat defending champions Kentucky (No. 3 at the time and No. 8 now) on a neutral floor, Minnesota (currently No. 21), an underrated VCU squad, Louisville (No. 2 at the time and No. 5 now) and No. 4 Ohio State.
Take a second to read that paragraph over again and remember that it’s still November.
Now consider that Coach K lost arguably his best player from a year ago in Austin Rivers (as well as Miles Plumlee) and is relying heavily on a couple of freshmen, and the wins look even better.
Even Curry is dealing with an injury, and Marshall Plumlee hasn’t even played a single minute due to a stress fracture.
When you compare Duke’s resume thus far to Indiana’s, it is really not even close. Yes, the Hoosiers looked great against North Carolina, but most of their wins have come against powerhouses such as Bryant, North Dakota State, Sam Houston State and Ball State.
They also trailed at halftime to a Georgia team that got blown out by Youngstown State before coming back after intermission.
Indiana did beat an underrated Georgetown squad, but that game took overtime after the Hoyas blew some chances to win it in regulation.
Ultimately, Duke and Indiana may be the best two teams in the nation, especially considering both teams are missing critical pieces because of suspensions or injuries. So we may be splitting hairs here, especially considering how much season remains.
But even if you believe the Hoosiers are the better team out of the two (which I do—shh, don’t tell anyone), the reality is the Blue Devils deserve that top ranking on Monday.
Right now the only reason Indiana is still No. 1 is because that is where people decided to put it before a single game was even played.
A nonconference resume that includes three victories over top-five teams, as well as a couple of wins against solid Minnesota and VCU squads, is absolutely incredible for an entire season.
Duke has done that in less than a month.