Most notably, Duke is looking to avenge an 84-76 road loss to No. 19 NC State on January 12. The Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 at the time, and the rematch will come this Thursday in primetime.
In that previous game, star guard Seth Curry led the way with 22 points, but missed the end of the second half due to an ankle injury. The other Duke star, forward Mason Plumlee, contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocks.
It was the NC State players, though, that really shined.
Duke simply could not handle the two superb forwards of NC State, Richard Howell and CJ Leslie. Howell was all over the paint, finishing with 16 points and 18 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds. Leslie had a team-high 25 points and six rebounds, and was 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Point guard Lorenzo Brown also had a double-double, with 12 points and an astounding 13 assists.
If the Blue Devils are going to exact revenge this Thursday, they will need to play tough in the paint and frustrate at least one of these dominating forwards.
The Wolfpack are currently a disappointing 5-4 in the ACC, including two straight losses to University of Virginia and Miami.
Thursday’s matchup is a huge game for both teams.
Another big matchup for the Blue Devils is February 13, when the intense Duke-UNC rivalry adds another chapter to its history.
Right now, unranked UNC (15-6, 5-3 ACC) is coming off an overtime win against a tough and unlucky Virginia Tech team that has been in nearly every game it’s played so far.
The Tar Heels currently dominate the boards, as they are 2nd in the country in rebounds per game with 42.4. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are currently 149th in rebounds per game. UNC is led by sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who averages 15.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. At 6’9” and 230 pounds, he will be a matchup nightmare for the Blue Devils.
If the Blue Devils plan to end the season as strongly as they have started it, they will need to neutralize McAdoo’s versatility and prove they can win tough rivalry games.
Despite the incredible rivalry, UNC is not the matchup the Blue Devils should be most worried about.
That matchup comes on March 2, as No. 14 Miami comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Miami has had some question marks this season, including shooting 29% en route to an astonishing 12-point defeat in the second game of the season to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. The Hurricanes looked far from what that name implies, as they were embarrassed in the paint by a 40-14 margin, and even gave up a 23-2 run.
The Hurricanes also lost in overtime on Christmas Day to Indiana State, 57-55.
However, the same Miami Hurricanes are also 17-3, and undefeated in the ACC. This includes a January 23 drubbing of the Blue Devils, 90-63.
Since the defeat to Indiana State, Miami has won nine straight, most recently a 79-78 defeat over NC State on an incredible tip-in with 0.8 seconds left by Reggie Johnson to seal the win.
The key for Duke in this game will be speed. Miami is led by big bodies such as Johnson and 6’11” forward-center Kenny Kadji, who is averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. They will need their guards, primarily Curry, to constantly use their quickness to keep the team off-balance on defense. This will certainly help by the end of the game when the Hurricanes players are much more winded than the Blue Devils players.
But Miami has won at North Carolina and at North Carolina State, and playing in front of a notoriously rowdy Duke crowd should have less of an effect.
Also, the Blue Devils must recover quickly from playing a talented Virginia team two days before this matchup. After a recent upset to Georgia Tech, Virginia are currently 15-6 and third in the ACC, one game behind Duke.
Virginia will be a gritty matchup for the Blue Devils, which will make the Miami game two days later that much harder.
Duke has a number of key ACC games down the home stretch of the season. With only two losses, they have put themselves in a very good position to compete for the ACC crown, but these three matchups certainly stand out as the toughest matchups Duke will face for the rest of the season.