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Formidable even in the down times

Stumbling Duke still formidable

The uniforms told us it was still Duke. So did the recent history, which produced ridiculous numbers over the last 10 years, such as an average of 30 wins per season, which led to nine straight Sweet 16 appearances, three Final Four appearances, and a national championship.

So did Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, a day past his 60th birthday, who arrived at Conte Forum for last night's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown against Boston College.

But the reality of this season suggested other things, strange things, such as the 5-6 ACC record that they brought to Chestnut Hill, as well as a losing streak that reached four with a 72-60 loss Sunday at Maryland, and a plummet out of the Associated Press Top 25 rankings for the first time since the end of the 1995-96 season, a run of 200 weeks, the second-longest streak in NCAA history.

If Duke had lost last night, it would have been the first five-game skein during Krzyzewski's time in charge.

Which is why there was as much curiosity as fear -- BC was 1-7 vs. the Blue Devils and had not beaten Duke since a 74-73 win in the second round of the 1985 NCAA Midwest Regional in Houston.

Listen to the Blue Devils, particularly Coach K, explain the tumble and it almost made sense. More bad luck, or bad karma than bad shots, said Krzyzewski about a 79-73 loss to North Carolina, a 68-67 loss to Florida State, and a 68-66 overtime loss to Virginia, all of which were not settled until the final minute.

The loss to Maryland was different, said Krzyzewski, explaining that Maryland just outplayed the Blue Devils Sunday.

An then there was the Y factor. Or Youth factor, a Duke roster that has one senior and one junior.

Oh, the talent was still there. Point guard Greg Paulus spurned an opportunity to be a quarterback at Notre Dame to be the point guard at Duke. Josh McRoberts, a 6-foot-10-inch sophomore, was ready to step into a leadership role. Freshman shooting guard Jon Scheyer's résumé includes a high school scoring spurt in which he scored 21 points in 90 seconds en route to a 52-point night.

The Blue Devils, who have road games remaining at Clemson and North Carolina, went into last night's game almost with a tournament mind-set of needing to win to avoid elimination.

Not that the Blue Devils are in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament -- they still have a Ratings Percentage Index of 18.

"We're on the road a lot and we just have to find ways of getting better," said Krzyzewski, who has been on the coaching carousel since July when he took over the role as coach of the US national team. "The busiest year of my life," he said in describing the process, which has brought him to the cusp of March with a team that has yet -- and may not -- hit its competitive stride.

Worthy of the honor
Jared Dudley, BC's Player of the Year candidate, came into last night's game as the ACC and national player of the week, but had his string of scoring 20 or more points snapped at four games. Dudley finished with 11 points . . . Sean Marshall continues a remarkable longevity streak. Last night was Marshall's 125th consecutive start. The senior forward, who finished with a game-high 23 points, has not missed a start since he arrived at BC . . . Dudley has his own stamina streak going with an average of 38.33 minutes per game overall. Not surprisingly, he saw 39 minutes of action.

Calling around
The storm that whipped through Boston caused a scramble for officials working last night's game. Jamie Luckie and Sean Hall made their connections, but Mike Wood did not, which caused a scramble to find a third official. Jose Carrion-Diaz was finally called in to complete the crew.