As a cynic, I’m not inclined to believe that Duke will go undefeated. But I like to justify my cynicism by saying that I'm a realist. And the reality is that Duke is an extremely good basketball team.
Despite having played teams that put the Blue Devils’ RPI and strength of schedule at No. 1 in the country, with a great deal of daylight between them and No. 2, Duke remains undefeated. Duke is sixth in adjusted offense and eighth in adjusted defense (via Pomeroy). Only one other team is in the top 10 of both categories.
The Blue Devils, always a team that favors three-point shooting, are sixth in the nation in three-point percentage. That contributes to Duke being one of the most offensively efficient teams in the country, ranking 10th overall in assist to turnover ratio.
And for good measure, on the defensive side Duke is holding opponents to just 61.8 points per game.
So even for a naysayer as practiced as myself, the question becomes: why not?
Why not be excited? Why not root for a perfect season? Sports are fickle, and when an opportunity to dream big presents itself, what’s wrong with allowing yourself to believe in the hyperbolic?
There’s clearly enough evidence to make a case for the possibility of perfection. Plus, with only conference games left in the regular season, the competition is stiff but by no means insurmountable. After all, it isn’t as if the other top teams in the ACC are infallible.
NC State doesn’t have a lot of height and has lost the only two games the Wolfpack have played against top competition.
Maryland hasn’t lost since the opening game against Kentucky, but the Terps are a young team still looking for an identity (10 players average over 12 minutes per game) and have thus far played a soft schedule of mid-major opponents and a slumping Virginia Tech.
UNC, meanwhile, is having trouble sorting out its center spot and depends heavily on three-point shooting.
While Duke has weaknesses of its own, those three opponents are at least as flawed as the Blue Devils. All things being even in terms of talent and level of play, Duke has a distinct advantage in terms of experience.
The Blue Devils boast three seniors as the team’s leading scorers and utilize a sophomore point guard who clearly learned a great deal from his freshman season. Meanwhile, NC State and UNC both rely on freshmen point guards and Maryland’s top three scorers are all sophomores.
Duke plays each of those teams twice, so it seems likely that the Blue Devils would drop at least one of those six games. But given Duke’s experience and versatility, it’s not impossible that it could sweep each of those three series.
Duke’s experience-induced composure and offensive flexibility will also safeguard it against the second-tier ACC opponents.
Who Will Duke Lose To in the Regular Season?
Duke has enough height and frontcourt depth to deal with Miami. It is among the most efficient offenses in the country and good in a half-court offense, so it should be able to cope with Virginia’s defense.
Georgia Tech has played well in its new stadium, but the season’s only matchup sends the Yellow Jackets to Cameron Indoor Stadium. And the Blue Devils' high-pressure defense ought to be enough to slow the likes of Florida State’s Michael Snaer and Virginia Tech’s Erick Green.
The point is that Duke has all the tools with which to beat every opponent it faces from here to the end of the regular season. From there, Duke is certainly among the favorites to win the ACC tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA.
The question is whether or not the Blue Devils will wield those tools effectively each and every game. Laden with veteran players, it seems probable that Duke’s focus and composure can be counted upon. Given that, there is certainly room enough to believe in the possibility of a perfect season.
Bad shooting nights, the other team getting inexplicably hot or any of a myriad of tough breaks could very easily blemish Duke’s perfect record. And in the end, maybe a loss would do the team good.
But in sports, as in life, failure is always lurking around the corner. So why dwell on potential failure? Why not enjoy the very real success? And why not make room for the slight possibility of perfection?
After all, the last guy to do it was Coach Krzyzewski’s mentor.