RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Duke Blue DevilsPosted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2009
Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.
The ACC has been North Carolina’s league for three straight seasons now. With four prolific stars departing from Roy Williams roster, this could be the year Duke re-claims supremacy in the most fabled conference in college basketball. The loss of athletic swingman Gerald Henderson early to the riches of the NBA hurts, but the late inclusion of a young point guard to compliment two potential blue-chip power forwards and the dynamic duo of Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler means Duke has the goods to capture their first ACC regular season title since J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams manned the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor.
Let’s face it: this program hasn’t quite featured the mystique and aura that normally comes with Duke basketball since the heartbreaking loss to UConn in the 2004 Final Four. Duke’s pinnacle has been the Sweet 16 since that crushing blow and critics are lining up over whether coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s Olympic conquests are hurting the program. Still, a top-two ACC finish and an Elite Eight seem like reasonable goals for this Duke team that only lost Henderson, transfer Elliot Williams, quarterback Greg Paulus and glue guy David McClure. Three top-50 recruits and four of the Blue Devils’ top five scorers return for a squad looking to knock an inexperienced North Carolina team off the mantle.
How does everyone’s favorite hoops team stack up schedule-wise? Let’s examine:
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8. Duke normally doesn’t back down from challenging their team in non-conference play, so their participation in the NIT Season Tip-Off and neutral/road games against Georgetown, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Iowa State and St. John’s doesn’t surprise me. The Blue Devils normally excel in November and their only formidable foe in the NIT tournament this year is Connecticut. They’d match up in the finals if Duke can slide past Coastal Carolina, Charlotte and most likely an Arizona State team that lost both James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. A November 27 final against UConn at MSG would certainly not lack for entertainment. The ACC-Big Ten challenge pits Duke a difficult road game at the Kohl Center, a venue where Wisconsin rarely loses. Neutral floor games against Gonzaga in NYC and Iowa State in Chicago are included, along with a January 30 visit to Georgetown to face a Hoya team that could be a well-oiled machine at that point. Conference USA favorite Tulsa also makes a trip to Cameron in late February, which has the potential to be dangerous for Duke. The non-conference slate certainly presents challenges, and credit Coach K for agreeing to send Duke to places other than Durham for tests that will certainly benefit the Blue Devils come ACC play.
Cupcake City: Only six true cupcakes on the slate for Duke this season as UNC Greensboro, Coastal Carolina (part of the NIT), Radford, Gardner-Webb, Long Beach State and Penn travel to Durham (although I should count Charlotte the way they played last season). A program with Duke’s stature doesn’t have to schedule Gonzaga in NYC or travel to Chicago to play Iowa State, but they do anyway. Unlike Washington, Duke will be battle-tested for conference play and their computer numbers will give the Blue Devils a boost when it comes to seeding debates. Duke is usually in the top-ten in RPI every single season and there’s a reason why.
Toughest Early Season Test: While it’s never smart to assume crazy things won’t happen in November, the battle with Connecticut at MSG for the NIT Season Tip-Off Final will surely be the most challenging early season game for Duke, especially with Gonzaga and Wisconsin lacking the talent usually associated with such programs. The two legendary coaches manning the sidelines will be a perfect Dickie V talking point for the entire broadcast, but let’s delve into the actual game: who will defend Kemba Walker at the point? Scheyer? Nolan Smith? Will it be baptism by fire for freshman Andre Dawkins? Will Stanley Robinson present a matchup problem for Duke and Kyle Singler? While Duke may actually be more frontcourt-oriented this season with Singler, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the freshman duo of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, UConn should be more perimeter-oriented with Walker, Jerome Dyson, freshman Darius Smith and Robinson’s tendency to drift outside. This should be one of the top non-conference games on the season slate.
Easiest Conference Stretch: This wasn’t easy to find, but Duke does have a stretch in mid-February that could provide a nice boost. The two road games are against Miami and Virginia. While the Hurricanes have some interesting athletes like Dwayne Collins and freshman Durand Scott, they look like an NIT team and the Canes home court doesn’t provide much of an edge. Virginia should improve under new coach Tony Bennett and super sophomore Sylven Landesberg, but it won’t be enough to reach any type of meaningful postseason. The home dates are with Maryland and Virginia Tech. Unless the Terps make big strides early in the year, Duke should be double-digit favorites in both contests.
Hardest Conference Stretch: Just prior to that easier stretch could be Duke’s hardest. A slight reprieve with a mediocre Florida State team at home is included, but the four other games are very challenging with three road contests at Clemson, Boston College and North Carolina along with a home date with Georgia Tech (the road game at Georgetown is also involved). If Duke can tread water at 2-2 during those four games, they should win the conference title. Clemson may have lost K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby, but Trevor Booker and transfer Noel Johnson can lead the way. BC returns their entire team besides Tyrese Rice and we all know about North Carolina…
Most Difficult Road Test: The general consensus here would say the Heels…and I’ll side with the general consensus. Duke has certainly had their problems in Boston College recently, and while Clemson (remember this thrashing) and Maryland also can produce raucous atmospheres, North Carolina is the co-favorite in the ACC this season. The Heels will certainly throw out a formidable frontcourt test for the oft-soft Blue Devils with Ed Davis and Deon Thompson manning the paint while Tyler Zeller can stretch the floor. The one edge for Duke, especially on the road, could be backcourt experience led by Smith and Scheyer. Marcus Ginyard will play a huge role in shutting down those two Duke guards.
Most Anticipated Home Date: Is this even up for debate? The season finale on Saturday night (with ESPN College Gameday in the house) when North Carolina makes their 8-mile trek to rival Duke takes the cake in a knockout. There’s a very real chance the ACC title could be on the line on the last weekend of the season for the greatest rivalry in college sports. There may be riots, brawls, bloodied observers and plenty of controversy…and that’s only in the stands. Whenever these two storied rivals meet, it’s must-see TV, and considering it’s a March primetime game to close out the regular season, it could be something special.
Upset Watch: Duke’s first ACC road game is a trip to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech, a team that went 2-14 in the conference last season under head coach Paul Hewitt, who was firmly entrenched on the hot seat until Derrick Favors saved his job. There’s some optimism abound for the Yellow Jacket program, though, with Favors in the fray and the returns of Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert. Losing Lewis Clinch stings (get it?) but Georgia Tech has the athletes to run with Duke. It would be a huge resume-building win for Hewitt and his program in a year where they could be on the fringe of reaching the Dance.
Best Individual Matchup: The two best pure shooters in the ACC this season could be Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez and Duke’s Jon Scheyer. The two scoring guards will face off twice this season with Maryland’s favorite player Scheyer making a trip to College Park and Duke’s prodigal son Vasquez having to show his face in Cameron after last year’s epic beatdown. Both Scheyer and Vasquez love to come off screens and pop three-pointers, but both of these senior leaders will have to play a larger role in their respective teams’ attacks this season with responsibilities running the offense. While Scheyer does have some help in clutch situations, it’s all Vasquez all the time for the Terps when they desperately need a bucket.
Duke should be primed for another solid season. While solid doesn’t always play at a school where Final Fours are the expected minimum, a top-two ACC finish and another Sweet 16 berth is likely in the cards. 2010-11 could be the year Duke is truly back. Losing Scheyer will hurt, but Coach K is hot on the pursuit of Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight, Kyrie Irving and Josh Smith for the Class of 2010, all top-ten players in the nation. Grab two of those, hope Singler sticks around and the potential for a national championship all of a sudden becomes realistic. Duke doesn’t have the firepower for such a feat this season, but they’ll still be a feared powerhouse capable of beating nearly anyone in the country.