After losing four straight games and falling out of the polls for the first time since 1996, Duke is finally starting to hit its stride.
The Blue Devils have quickly ascended the polls in the last two weeks, riding their current four-game winning streak to No. 14 in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls, which were released Monday.
Despite losing four tough ACC games in a row and falling to 5-6 in the conference, head coach Mike Krzyzewski never felt his team was playing losing basketball, aside from the first 10 minutes of the team's 72-60 loss at Maryland.
"When we lost four games in a row, it's not like we played four losing performances that were worthy of a loss," he said. "Everyone says you're way down, but you shouldn't respond to what people say no matter if you've won four in a row or lost four in a row. You should respond to what is actually happening."
Since the loss at Maryland, the team has played nothing short of winning basketball. Three out of the four most recent victories were on the road, and the other was against a team, Georgia Tech, that had already beaten the Blue Devils earlier in the season.
And while Madison Square Garden was not exactly rocking Sunday against Big East foe St. John's, it is never easy to beat a non-conference team on the road.
"We're definitely feeling a lot better this time in the season," junior DeMarcus Nelson said. "We are finding out who we are at the most important part of our season, going into the last week of our conference play and the conference tournament."
Duke certainly has a lot to play for in its next two games as it tries to position itself for a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament. No team has ever won four straight games to claim the conference crown-something that Duke would have to do if it does not finish in the top four.
The Blue Devils cannot finish higher than fourth in the conference. In order to ensure itself of the No. 4 seed and a bye in the first round, Duke must hope Boston College loses its final game against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils must also defeat both Maryland and North Carolina-in the Dean Dome, no less.
If Duke slips up in the final week of ACC play, the Blue Devils may fall all the way to seventh. Nonetheless, the team is not taking a different approach to the game against the Terrapins Wednesday.
"We're going to try and have the same feeling that we have for every game that we play, and that is to have the utmost respect for our opponent, to play hard and then try and put ourselves in a position to win," Krzyzewski said. "Maryland is playing as good basketball as anybody in our conference and has been for the last couple weeks.... [Terrapin head coach] Gary [Williams] and his kids have done a terrific job."
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