Duke Blue Devils
* Record: 13-0
* AP ranking: 2
* NCAA RPI: 5
* Best win: 80-70 at Wisconsin
* Best stat: Thirteen games into the season, the Blue Devils are shooting a torrid 52.4 percent from the field against a schedule currently ranked the 17th toughest in the country by ESPN.
* Difference maker: Freshman big man Jahlil Okafor is the obvious choice, given his 19.5 ppg average and his 68 percent field-goal accuracy, but what may serve Duke best come the postseason is the free-throw shooting of point guards Quinn Cook (96 percent) and Tyus Jones (85 percent). If you're behind, it's tough to catch up against ball-handlers such as that.
* Reason to doubt: As good as the Devils are, nearly one third of their shots come from the 3-point line. If they're off one game, it could spell trouble against a physical inside team capable of limiting Okafor's production.
* Will be trendy in Indy at the Final Four if ... Okafor remains healthy and they don't have a game in the tournament when they go ice-cold from the 3-point line. Otherwise, it's hard to see Duke not reaching the Final Four.
* Prediction: National championship game
* Coachspeak: "I would say they hit some tough shots, but they have good enough players that can do that at times. To have as many do it on the same night, that's just not fair. I don't care what anybody says, they were lights out." -- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan after watching Duke shoot 71 percent from the field in the second half of a 80-70 victory over the host Badgers, who are 14-1.
Editor's note: This is the first 2015 story in Mark Wiedmer's annual series on top NCAA men's basketball contenders.
When the Duke Blue Devils travel to Wake Forest on Wednesday night for their first Atlantic Coast Conference road game of the season, they'll do so with a 13-0 record, an average victory margin of 24.7 points and not a single win by fewer than 10 points.
What the nation's No. 2 team won't do is own a single first-place vote in the Associated Press poll, all 64 of those going to Kentucky for a fifth straight week.
"Well, I know one No. 1 vote Duke got, and that was mine," said Wofford coach Mike Young, the lone member of USA Today's 32-member coaches' poll to side with the Blue Devils. "I know Kentucky is such a remarkable team -- so long and so deep. But Duke is just as terrific. I know I'd love to see them play each other in the (NCAA) tournament."
Wofford faced Duke last week inside the Blue Devils' Cameron Indoor Stadium, falling 84-55. Afterward, Young told the media, "I was really proud. I can't say there have been many times in my career when we got our fannies whipped by 29, or whatever it was, and I was proud. My guys stuck it up in there and battled against an obviously very good basketball team that is going to go on to win a lot of games."
Sunday, after arriving in town for Monday night's game against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Young further explained his appreciation for the Dookies, beginning with freshman big man Jahlil Okafor, who was just named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week after a 28-point, eight-rebound, four-block performance against Boston College.
"He made a move against us on the baseline, just incredible, and I'm like, 'You're 19 years old, you can't do that' ... but he did," Young said after watching Okafor collect 24 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks against the Terriers.
"I had an NBA guy after that game tell me he thinks Okafor is already one of the two best 5s (centers) in the world, college or pro. And he's got other great players around him."facebook
So many great players. It hasn't seemed to get the attention that Kentucky has received, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has the same record number of McDonald's All-Americans as UK -- nine. One of those, freshman wing Justise Winslow, may be the most athletic Blue Devil since Grant Hill, who helped spark Duke to national titles in 1991 and 1992. Point guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones both hit over 85 percent from the foul line. And junior sharpshooter Rasheed Sulaimon knocks down 42 percent of his 3-pointers coming off the bench.
Said Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert after watching the Devils whip his team 113-44 to open the season: "They've got the whole gamut. You know they're well coached. The weapons that they have are tremendous. They've got five guys and they've got five more coming off the bench, and they're cheering for each other and pulling for each other, and that's on November 14th."
But the most tremendous of those weapons is Okafor, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Chicago product who is expected to become the overall No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft should he choose the route of one-and-done.
Declared Coach K after notching his 996th career win against BC: "Jah is special in every way."
Said Young: "If you try to play him one-on-one, he'll just overpower you; he's almost unstoppable. And if you double him, he throws lasers back to the perimeter, which usually result in wide-open 3-pointers."
Yet as good as Duke sounds, Young doesn't believe the Blue Devils are as likely as many believe Kentucky is to reach the NCAA tourney unbeaten.
"In that league, with teams like Virginia and North Carolina -- and from what I've seen, Virginia's better than last year when it won the league -- it only takes one bad night," Young said. "The road's a tricky place."
Yet Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright, who helped lead the Huskies to last season's NCAA title before losing by 10 to the Dookies last month, believes Duke "has all the pieces they need" to win Krzyzewski his fifth NCAA title and first since 2010.
So does Presbyterian's Nibert, who declared in November, "They'll be scary in March."
But will they be scary enough for more than Young to vote them No. 1?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.