Duke will go into the 2014-15 season with high expectations. After a season of great parity—where the No. 1 ranked team in the country kept getting upset—the upcoming season looks to be one that'll be dominated by a handful of supremely talented teams.
Duke will be among those elite teams. A great recruiting haul combined with promising returning underclassmen and defensive-minded seniors make Duke an NCAA title contender.
But the first step toward a national championship is a strong showing in the conference. For that reason, Duke fans hoping for a deep run in March should expect either an ACC regular season or ACC tournament title.
OK, so it’s only been a couple of years, but for Duke that constitutes a drought.
The Blue Devils haven’t finished first in the ACC regular season since the 2009-10 team that went on to win the NCAA championship. Worse still, though Duke last won the ACC tournament in the 2008-09 season, the last two conference tournaments haven’t been memorable for Duke fans.
Losses to Florida State and Maryland haven’t sent the Blue Devils into the NCAA tournament on a positive note.
The Mike Krzyzewski era has been defined by sustained excellence. Under Coach K, Duke has tallied 13 ACC tournament titles and finished first in the ACC regular season 12 times.
Since the 1985-86 season, Coach K has never gone more than two years without either winning the ACC regular season or ACC tournament. Given that the Blue Devils haven’t enjoyed either conference accomplishment in two years, history indicates Duke is due to win the ACC.
If they don’t win either the regular season or conference tourney, it’ll be the first time Duke has gone three years without a conference title in 28 years.
People like to nitpick the fact that Coach K uses a short bench once conference play starts. Given the amount of talent that the Blue Devils will have, a short bench won’t be an issue.
A lot of guys will have to play some minutes just to keep everyone happy. Additionally, Duke will likely go with a more up-tempo style of play next season. That lends itself to a deeper rotation in order to keep players fresh.
Given the grueling schedule that conference expansion has created, Duke’s depth will come in handy. Not only will a solid rotation keep players fresh, it will be useful when injuries inevitably crop up.
Duke’s versatility should help the team grind through the dog days of conference play. That’ll be an advantage as the Blue Devils go after a regular season title.
It will also aid Duke in the ACC tournament because the Blue Devils will be able to rotate players in order to avoid the wear and tear of playing on consecutive days.
The ACC didn’t do Duke any favors with next season’s ACC schedule. Still, the release of Duke’s home and away opponents illustrates a couple of things Duke fans should like.
First of all, Duke won’t go to College Park for Maryland’s final season in the ACC. The Blue Devils always face a raucous crowd at Maryland so it’s nice that Duke will get a home game against the Terps.
Secondly, Duke avoided away games against Virginia and Florida State. Duke lost in Charlottesville last year so the Blue Devils will be happy to avoid another potential court storming.
Florida State, meanwhile, might get Andrew Wiggins. In that case, it’ll be advantageous to face the Seminoles in Cameron where even a highly talented freshman can get shaken up.
Bottom line, the schedule helps the Blue Devils, even though they still have to go on the road to Notre Dame, Pitt and Miami.
ACC expansion adds an air of unfamiliarity. The newcomers will have the culture shock of playing in the ACC.
Syracuse will certainly be amped to play in Cameron, but that can often backfire on a team.
Beyond that, expansion will probably muddle the standings. Teams are more likely to drop games they should win simply because the opponent or stadium is unfamiliar.
A logjam in the conference standings would mean that any of the top teams in ACC could pull ahead to steal the regular season crown.
It will also be interesting to see how the newcomers fit into the ACC stylistically. Winning in the Big East requires physicality, whereas winning in the ACC requires a great deal of offensive firepower.
The roster that Duke will have in the upcoming season will be high scoring, undersized and fast paced. That might cause problems for the former Big East teams who are used to low-scoring games that revolve around dominating the paint.
For the past couple years, ACC fans have been forced to admit that the nation’s premier basketball conference was the Big 10. This year, the ACC might reestablish its dominance.
Syracuse will be very good. North Carolina will be better and if they add Wiggins, they’ll be serious ACC and NCAA contenders. If Wiggins picks Florida State, then all of a sudden the Seminoles are a dangerous wild card in the ACC.
Maryland, Notre Dame and Pitt should all be tough opponents. Boston College and Wake Forest will be much improved from last year while Virginia will continue to be a team capable of big upsets.
There are very few easy games in this revamped ACC. However, there isn’t a truly elite team other than Duke, unless Wiggins picks North Carolina.
Duke will go into the season with the most talent, the most accomplished coach and a long tradition of ACC success.