Thursday, January 19, 2006

Will Duke Go Undefeated?

After last night's victory over North Carolina State, the Duke Blue Devils improved to 17-0, 5-0 in the ACC. With only 2 non-conference games and three truly difficult road tests left, talk heated up again about Duke going undefeated. There are 13 games left for Duke until the ACC Tournament. Add that to the three they would play in the ACC Tournament and the six they would play in the NCAA Tournament, and the Blue Devils have 22 games left that they would need to win in order to complete an undefeated season. I can't see them going 39-0, or even 38-1, for that matter. Duke will lose before the ACC Tournament, and will also not win the NCAA Tournament. As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, that is a different discussion for an entirely different time. However, one can analyze their schedule and breakdown their chances of going undefeated in the regular season.

Let's start with the non-conference games, just to get them out of the way. This Saturday, the Blue Devils head out to Washington, D.C. for a date with the Georgetown Hoyas. While they may be on the road, Duke is just too balanced and has too many options for the three-point oriented Hoyas. The only other non-league contest left is another road game, this one at Temple. The Owls are only 9-6 this season and have disappointed many. Duke should win that game as well. That leaves the 11 ACC games remaining on the schedule. The Blue Devils have to play Virginia Tech, Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Miami (Fl.) one more time each, and Florida State and North Carolina twice.

In order to beat Duke, a team needs to be able to get offensive rebounds leading to easy baskets; they need to be able to spread the floor and not turn the ball over; and they need to be a good defensive group. In terms of individuals, an opponent needs to have a solid inside player that can score; a couple of players that can take their defender off the dribble; and one or two consistent three-point shooters. The only teams left on the schedule that have that are Maryland, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. Oh, wow, what a coincidence--Duke has to go on the road to play each of those teams sometime during the rest of the season. Most likely, Duke will lose during the week of February 5-February 11. During that span, the Blue Devils have to play at North Carolina, and then play at Maryland. If they have not lost by February 12th (before that, they also play at Boston College and Virginia Tech), the Duke Blue Devils will go undefeated. If one is looking for a trap game for Duke, though, circle February 19th on your calendar: that is when the Miami Hurricanes come to visit. The guards of Miami could cause some problems for Duke.

Obviously, there are still several games left for Duke that they could go into undefeated and come out a one-loss team. However, with the lack of a return trip to North Carolina State looming, the number of teams able to defeat Duke is decreasing weekly. Don't book plans for the undefeated parade yet, though: Duke still has a lot of work to do.

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