Since the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, us ACC homers on Bleacher Report have been fantasizing about a Feb. 11 showdown in Cameron Indoor Stadium pitting No. 1 North Carolina against No. 2 Duke.
I recently toyed with the idea of presenting a hypothetical where No. 1 Duke hosts No. 2 Carolina, but stopping me were a few things: common sense, the imminent backlash, and mostly, being wrong!
Before I could even outline a way to extend such an idea into more than a few dozen words, it happened. Carolina lost.
Any fan of any ACC team knows how hard it is to run the table in-conference in the regular season, let alone the full 30-something games. I just don't think anyone thought the Heels would lose this quick.
At a loss for words after the stunning upset, I'm forced to take a cold, hard look into my Blue Devils.
Ranked second in the nation, Duke boasts a 12-1 record, and is looking to shed the recent memories of playing basketball through February, then soiling the bed in March.
Duke always has a relatively challenging schedule in November and December, and always comes out strong in January when conference play starts, but what does it really mean?
2001-2002: Started 12-1, lost in Sweet 16
2002-2003: Started 12-1, lost in Sweet 16
2003-2004: Started 12-1, lost in Final Four
2004-2005: Started 13-0, lost in Sweet 16
2005-2006: Started 13-0, lost in Sweet 16
2006-2007: Started 12-1, lost in first round
2007-2008: Started 12-1, lost in second round
These records aren't due to weak scheduling. They are due to Mike Krzyzewski making sure his men are ready when the season starts. They play their hearts out every minute, every game for him.
So what happens at the end of the season? Do they get tired? Are they gassed when March rolls around?
Nobody can convince me if Duke played West Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, or Indiana earlier the same seasons they met in the tournament, there would be similar results.
I can't tell you how to remedy this, if there even is a simple "remedy." Some teams get better as the season goes along, and some teams start the season great and fade away by the end.
If there is a difference this year, it's depth. Duke finally has it after a four-year hiatus. Nine different Dukies average well over double-digits in minutes per game with two averaging just under 10 minutes per game.
Krzyzewski doesn't put you on the court for significant minutes if you're a scrub.
On top of the depth, there is finally aggressiveness on the offensive boards. When someone takes a shot, four Blue Devils are crashing the glass. Granted, this isn't always the case, and Duke has plenty of kinks to work out with its big men, but there is a significant difference between this year's team from Coach K's previous few squads.
Duke hasn't shown me yet whether it will be a fading or prosperous team in March, but my Dukies haven't given me much reason not to be confident this time around.
Anything short of cutting down the nets a couple states east of where the 2001 Blue Devils did will be a disappointment.
Don't get me wrong, I know the road isn't easy, and I will tell you this: If Duke doesn't finish relatively strong and runs into Purdue, Xavier, Davidson, or Georgetown (yes I'm already chalking them up in the W column) in March, I won't be as confident as I am right now.
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