DURHAM, N.C. -- So why is Duke No. 1?
The answers are many, starting with a deep lineup that could lose Elton Brand and Nate James and keep on humming. You might also want to look at the man providing guidance, since Mike Krzyzewski is the only coach to produce repeat NCAA champions in the past 25 years.
The Blue Devils are 18-1, 7-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but forget all of the internal factors that went into the second-best start in the program's history and remember this factor: Duke moved up to No. 1 last week because Maryland stunned North Carolina 15 days ago.
The Terps take on the Blue Devils tonight at 8 (Ch. 54) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the last time they met, Duke put a 104-72 hurting on Maryland. Coach Gary Williams and his players keep saying it was an anomaly, and events of the past three weeks back them up.
Most telling, there was that monumental overtime win over North Carolina on Jan. 14, when the Terps were as good against the Tar Heels as they had been bad against the Blue Devils. Florida State and Clemson were also ranked when they fell to Maryland, which has gone 5-1 since that Duke debacle to climb to 12-6 overall, 5-3 in the ACC and No. 23 in this week's Associated Press Top 25.
"Our confidence level is so different now than it was when we played Duke the first time," Williams said. "The last time we played them, we were coming off of a loss at Missouri. That's no disgrace, but at the time it didn't look so good. Now we've beaten three straight ranked teams, and that's going to help us in terms of walking on the floor at Cameron and competing."
That's something Maryland didn't do at Cole Field House on Jan. 3. Swamped by a deluge of three-point baskets, the Terps were never in that game. They claim that the spread against Duke was a fluke, but it was business as usual for the Blue Devils, who have routinely sped away to lopsided leads before opponents have gotten the relief of a TV timeout.
The focus comes courtesy of the backcourt, where seniors Steve Wojciechowski and Trajan Langdon go after teams nearly as hard as they did each other two years ago, when Krzyzewski wondered who his point guard would be. Wojciechowski, out of Severna Park and Cardinal Gibbons School, eventually won the job, and Langdon returned to shooting guard.
"We've done a good job of being ready to play every time out," Wojciechowski said. "When you're ready to play, and have everyone's attention from the opening tip, sometimes you can catch teams off guard."
Both Wojciechowski (2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) and Langdon (14.3 scoring average) will make their 53rd straight starts tonight, and their presence has helped Duke lead the nation in scoring margin, 29.6 points. The Blue Devils not only lead the ACC in scoring, but they're also second in scoring defense.
"They just don't allow you to run your offense," Williams said. "They do as good a job of taking you out of your offense as anyone."
Through a 7-5 start, the Terps were their own worst enemy in that regard. Deficiencies in the half-court offense led Williams to bench junior point guard Terrell Stokes and give Matt Kovarik six straight starts. Stokes regained his spot five games ago, and the only slip since came against Wake Forest.
Maryland needs a more forceful effort this time from perimeter players Stokes, guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and forward Laron Profit. Jasikevicius was named co-Player of the Week in the ACC for his heroics in wins over Georgia Tech and Clemson, and Profit has contributed the past few weeks despite a shooting slump.
Profit has made just 37.5 percent of his attempts in the ACC, the low point being an 0-for-7 game against Duke the first time.
Krzyzewski made some changes of his own in the aftermath of the broken foot that cut short Brand's freshman year. The Blue Devils first filled the void at center with Chris Burgess, another freshman, but Taymon Domzalski has started the past five games there.
"Taymon has stepped up big time," Wojciechowski said. "He's given us a real physical presence inside, and he's made it easier for other guys to get to the boards."
The Blue Devils have a 16-game winning streak at Cameron, where they last lost on Jan. 11, 1997, to Wake Forest. Since 1983, Maryland has won only twice here. Then there's the matter of the night of Jan. 3, which every Terp wants to make amends for.
"It's going to be different this time," Profit said. "There's going to be a different Maryland team out there."
There has been the past three weeks.
Put up your dukes
No. 1 Duke has made a habit of jumping out to large early leads in the ACC this season.
Date .. .. . Opp. .. .. . Lead .. .. .. .. .Final
Dec. 6 .. .. Virginia ... 13-2 .. .. .. .. 103-59
Jan. 3 .. .. Maryland ... 23-9 .. .. .. .. 104-72
Jan. 14 .. . Wake For. .. 20-4 .. .. .. ... 88-52
Jan. 17 .. . Clemson 17-4 81-80
Pub Date: 1/29/98