2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Duke Blue DevilsPosted by zhayes9 on September 10th, 2010
Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court. To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.
Two years ago at this time, Duke’s bitter rival from down Tobacco Road was being lauded as the unanimous #1 team in the nation. This was a no-brainer designation; after all, North Carolina was returning their top eight scorers from a 36-3 Final Four qualifier. Fast forward to the present and the tables have turned dramatically in college basketball’s most famous rivalry. Now it’s two potential All-Americans returning for a senior campaign and a chance at back-to-back titles. It’s Duke luring in the top freshman guard the high school ranks had to offer. After eight years of disappointing March finishes, the Blue Devils are once again perched high atop college basketball’s landscape, staring down mockingly at all of the haters and doubters below. Two autumns following their bitter rivals earning this same nod, it’s now Duke that deserves the recognition of a unanimous preseason #1 ranking.
Team Outlook: While a plethora of talent is back for a repeat run, Mike Krzyzewski will be the first to point out how difficult it will be to replicate last year’s impeccably constructed squad. The regular season wasn’t an easy ride, but by March every player on Duke’s roster knew their roles, accepted their responsibilities and executed to near perfection in an ideal championship concoction. Brian Zoubek was one of the most effective rebounders in the country, notably on the offensive glass, while fellow senior Jon Scheyer anchored the Blue Devil attack with great efficiency and intelligence. The happy ending to this story for Duke fans: they’re replacing Zoubek and Scheyer with more talented basketball players. Mason Plumlee doesn’t quite provide the bulk and rebounding prowess of Zoubek, but his ceiling, athleticism and versatility are measurably higher. Kyrie Irving may not have the wealth of experience of Scheyer, but the comparisons to former Duke POY Jay Williams are nothing to scoff at. Throw in Seth Curry, a Liberty transfer with great genes that averaged 20 PPG as a freshman in the Big South, and the returns of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith from the championship squad…things are looking fairly promising in Durham, no? A team that goes the entire regular season losing 2-3 games and grabs a #1 seed come March, similar to Kansas’ campaign in 2009-10, is a completely reasonable expectation.
Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8.5. Duke has their pick of tournaments and national television events to choose from in November and December. This year, a trip to the CBE Classic to face Marquette and either Kansas State or Gonzaga is the highlight of the non-conference slate. The chance is there to face two potential top ten teams in the tourney final. In a rematch of last year’s national title game that was announced just days after Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt shot barely fell of the iron, Duke and Butler will meet on December 4 at the IZOD Center, an arena the Blue Devils have scheduled games in the past (anyone recall Redick’s shooting clinic vs. #2 Texas?). The biggest confrontation could be the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Michigan State, a team many are projecting to reach the Final Four for the third consecutive spring. The Spartans will visit Cameron for the highest anticipated pre-conference contest this season. Other tricky games are a home visit from Temple, a trip to St. John’s during ACC play in what could be their toughest test against the Johnnies in years and A-10 sleeper Saint Louis coming to town.
Cupcake City: The cupcakes are few and far between this season for Duke. Princeton doesn’t qualify. It’s the season opener and the Blue Devils should win fairly handily, but the Tigers are the preseason Ivy favorite and play a style not likely to produce blowouts. Miami (Ohio) returns three of their top four scorers and could contend in the MAC, ditto with Bradley in the MVC and UAB in Conference USA. The only true cupcakes are Colgate and Elon coming to Cameron. Given the weight of Duke’s expectations and the number of challenging tests before ACC play even begins, I’d say these glorified exhibitions are more than deserved.
Toughest Early Season Test: I’m of the belief that Gonzaga can absolutely beat Kansas State in the second semifinal at the CBE Classic, but if the favored Wildcats do emerge, they will be Duke’s toughest early season test, possibly even more so than the faceoff with Michigan State within the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor. Kansas State’s frontcourt of Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla is deep and athletic enough to give Duke a scare. If there’s one weakness to the Blue Devils this season, it’s their lack of frontcourt depth should the Plumlee brothers slip into foul trouble and/or Ryan Kelly doesn’t develop as quickly as hoped after limited experience last season. Samuels, Kelly and the rest could utilize Frank Martin’s brutal, physical style to give Duke fits in the paint. If Gonzaga should come out on top, their frontline of Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk may pose the same problems.
Hardest ACC Stretch: Frankly, there’s a lot of mediocrity and uncertainty in the ACC this season. Most are assuming North Carolina’s life in the NIT was a short one given their returning and incoming talent, but none of us really know how good the Tar Heels will be this season. The personnel losses at schools like Maryland, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest were very substantial. It’s difficult to pinpoint any type of hellacious stretch for such an overwhelming favorite this early. After Duke, most preseason prognosticators have Virginia Tech and North Carolina as #2 and #3 in either order. Two of Duke’s last three games are road trips to Blacksburg and Chapel Hill, the former with College Gameday in the house and the latter a rare CBS primetime duel. Both will be played in raucous environments and could boost both Tech and UNC’s seed a few spots with such a quality win so late in the campaign.
Easiest ACC Stretch: Surveying the schedule, it’s hard to find a three or four game stretch where the Blue Devils have it relatively easy. Every home game against BC or Virginia or Georgia Tech seems to be followed by a challenging road game. From February 5 to February 20, Duke does face a stretch where 5-0 is very possible. They’ll face two in-state rivals NC State and North Carolina at Cameron, two teams with NCAA Tournament expectations but plenty of question marks that need to be resolved. That’s followed by two road games against Miami and Virginia and a home meeting with likely bottom feeder Georgia Tech. No road game in conference play is easy, but the Hurricanes and Cavaliers don’t pose as strong of a threat as others in the ACC.
Best Individual Matchup: Believe it or not, the most difficult player in the conference to guard is not on Duke’s roster. Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney is a gifted scorer that gives opposing defenders headaches. The Blue Devils’ Nolan Smith will likely be faced with the task of containing Delaney when Duke visits Blacksburg on February 26. Along with averaging over 20 PPG, Delaney ranked 32nd in the nation last season in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and 63th in percentage of his team’s possessions used. Delaney is clearly the centerpiece of Virginia Tech’s offensive game plan, a 6’3 guard that plays over 35 minutes per game and never takes a play off. How Smith contains Delaney could be the key in one of the ACC season’s most anticipated showdowns.
Most Challenging Road Test/Most Anticipated Home Date: Normally two separate categories, they can be combined in Duke’s case. I could over-analyze this to death and find reasons to pick other matchups, but nothing in this sport tops Duke vs. North Carolina when both teams are competitive. The addition of Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock, the development of John Henson and hope for a healthy season out of Tyler Zeller has the Tar Heels hoping for a return to respectability and revenge for last March’s epic 32-point thumping on Jon Scheyer’s senior night at Cameron. It will still take a heroic effort to top Duke on either floor given the amount of talent returning from a national title winner. If the Heels do manage to knock the Blue Devils off as a #1 team, it may single-handedly make up for last season’s failures in the fans’ minds.
Upset Watch: A tricky road game for Coach K could be Florida State, a team that has plenty of talent throughout their roster despite losing 7-foot center Solomon Alabi early to the NBA Draft. The ingredients for an upset are present: Chris Singleton is a lockdown defender with a developing offensive game that could pose matchup problems for Duke given his versatility at 6’9. Derwin Kitchen will be a senior point guard that takes care of the basketball (posted a 1.7 A/TO ratio last season). Heralded recruit Michael Snaer showed enough glimpses as a freshman that stardom may be on the horizon. Deividas Dulkys shot 40% from deep last season and can morph into scorching hot at any time (just ask North Carolina). Hamilton’s stellar recruiting has continued with the additions of big man Okaro White and combo guard Ian Miller, possibly the best incoming backcourt player to the conference not going to Duke or Carolina. The Blue Devils’ status as the alpha dog of the conference in 2010-11 means every road game will be a Super Bowl for their opponent. The spotty Seminole faithful (for hoops, at least) will be out in full force in hopes of a memorable upset. Just don’t say you didn’t see it coming.