By Matt Norlander
NEW YORK -- The most impressive current active streak in sports involves a coach and a team you might hate as much as you know. Yet you probably have no idea this streak exists.
The most impressive, you say? I do! Hey, there are plenty of candidates out there for the strongest streak ongoing in American sports. Had the Jaguars won last week, I wouldn't even be writing this, because that would've been a mind-bending four straight wins for that franchise. The mind reels.
Just a handful of impressive active sports streaks in the conversation: The San Antonio Spurs have made the playoffs 16 years in a row. That's an NBA record. The Detroit Red Wings have reached the postseason 22 seasons straight. That's not an NHL record. (Boston Bruins: 29.) The city of Cleveland is nearly at 50 years without a pro sports championship, which I maintain is much harder than merely winning just one in that span. In more than five decades of playing each other, North Carolina has never lost a home game to Clemson in men's hoops.
Care for a few more? The New England Patriots have reached double-digit wins 11 straight years. Justin Tucker -- emerging national hero after his postgame interview Monday night -- has banged home 32 straight figgies, his latest a 61-yarder to beat Detroit, the longest NFL field goal ever made in a dome. Maybe the best contender with the record in question? Florida State has gone to a bowl game every year since 1982. If bowl games weren't as disposable, forgettable and abundant as they've become in the past 10 years, that'd probably be your winner.
All of these are outstanding in their own way. But they're not the best. The best streak in American sports started six years ago. It involves Duke, which is in the midst of something that we haven't seen since John Wooden was on a sideline, a rolled-up UCLA program clutched in his hand.
The numbers are 119 and 222. That's 119 straight weeks as a team ranked in the Associated Press' top 10 and 222 straight games therein as a Top 10 team. It began on Nov. 26, 2007, and it's the second-longest such streak in men's college basketball history, only behind UCLA's run from Nov. 15, 1966 through Jan. 20, 1976 -- 155 weeks continuous. (If you're curious, Miami holds the record for most weeks in a row as a top-10 AP team in football. It went 137 weeks from 1985-1993, according to collegepollarchive.com.)
Duke's streak just about assured itself to reach at least 120 weeks and 224 games on Thursday night, when the Blue Devils won 80-63 over UCLA at Madison Square Garden, doing it front of a man who knows something about longevity. A loss to the Bruins almost definitely would've been the end of No. 8 Duke's run. But now, barring the unlikely -- a home loss to an out-of-conference foe, something Duke hasn't done in more than a decade, so yeah, another ridiculous streak there -- this program record will keep going once Duke clobbers Eastern Michigan at Cameron Indoor on Saturday.
To some, this may not sound like a record all that notable in the grander sports conversation. To those, I say you're out of your mind. College basketball is vicious toward whomever's at or near the top. The sport can't keep a No. 1 team for more than a few weeks. These are teenagers, remember. Turnover within the rankings is systematic to the rankings themselves. All other college basketball blue bloods have taken spills out of the Top 10 -- out of the Top 25 altogether. The next closest teams with active streaks in the AP top 10? Michigan State, 12; Louisville, 11.
Duke is 107 weeks ahead of the team in second place.
Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, Indiana, Michigan State, Louisville: All of these teams have swelled up and dipped down in the past three seasons. Not Duke, not for seven or eight years now. With a 2010 national championship still in the rear-view, the program remains as relevant and lording as ever.
It speaks to the unprecedented staying power of Mike Krzyzewski, a 66-year-old Beyonce fan who's still somehow in the prime of his coaching career and doesn't look anywhere near retirement. Coach K has a truly special, game-changing, next-evolution-stage of a player in Jabari Parker, who is surrounded by a team loaded and able to win K a fifth national title this year. That's a number you just know has to mean something gargantuan for Krzyzewski. One for the thumb and all that history. He's never catching Wooden's 10 titles, but getting to a fifth, in this era, will very well put him alongside the Wizard of Westwood as the greatest college coach of all time.
Next season, should Parker and a few others leave? Duke brings in Jahlil Okafor, a big man prospect who could very well be one of the best centers college basketball has seen in 15 years. The most impressive streak in sports could be at least a season and a half away from expiring.
Winning national titles and reaching Final Fours is how we judge programs in the macro, but it's the day-by-day, week-by-week consistency that marks true greatness in modern college athletics. There are so many fair, legitimate reasons for coaches to struggle. So for Duke to go so long without taking a digger is nothing short of staggering, especially in this age of volatile poll movement and mandatory overreaction to every loss.
Duke's also now won 23 games in a row in December. And Parker, who's had nine games of 20 or more points this season -- the best among all freshmen -- was again superb on Thursday night, becoming the first frosh wearing Duke threads to get 20, 10 and 5 in a game since Corey Maggette in '98. When he puts up three more games of 20 or more points, he'll set a new Duke freshman record in that category.
We can often take greatness for granted when it sits there in front of us for so long. We expect "this" from Duke, but I don't think most realize just how improbable this is. The Blue Devils are as vital as ever and remain the most polarizing team in the sport. This ultimately best for college basketball, because whenever Duke does lose, it's always news. And whenever it wins, we're slower to notice the achievement at hand as it grows in front of us.
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Matt Norlander is a contributor to Sports on Earth and a writer at CBSSports.com. He lives in Connecticut and is equal parts obsessed with sports and music. Follow him on Twitter:@MattNorlander.