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.