The Duke basketball season hasn’t been exactly what many Blue Devils fans were expecting.
Duke has shown potential to be a national championship contender but has also shown it’s a team that could be upset in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.
At 3-2 in conference play, every remaining game on the ACC schedule will be critical for the Blue Devils as it relates to conference standings and seeding in the NCAA tournament.
However, the following five games are the most important contests remaining on the schedule.
Despite being 16-2 and 4-1 in the ACC, the Pittsburgh Panthers have flown under the radar in their first year in the conference.
When Duke travels to Pittsburgh on January 27, it will be an opportunity for the Panthers to loudly announce their arrival to the league.
The Panthers use a physical style of play that could give the Blue Devils problems, and this will be a great opportunity for Duke to show it's capable of beating a quality opponent in a hostile environment.
Duke will have its hands full with Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, but this is the type of matchup that can help the Blue Devils prepare for the NCAA tournament.
Even though the Duke coaches and players will surely play this down as just another game against a tough opponent, this game has been circled on everyone’s calendars for months.
It will be the first time Duke and Syracuse face each other as conference foes, and the Carrier Dome will likely provide an electric atmosphere.
The Blue Devils will also get their first experience with the Orange’s renowned 2-3 zone defense, and it will be an excellent opportunity to see how Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood handle the challenge.
This is also a game where Duke can carry that banner for the traditional ACC schools, proving Syracuse won’t immediately come in and dominate the league.
With Maryland leaving the ACC after the season to become part of the Big Ten, this will be the last regular season between Duke and Maryland as conference opponents.
Considering the Terrapins took two of three games last season against the Blue Devils, I’m sure Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of his program want to send Maryland out of this heated series with a loss.
The intensity between these two programs over the past two decades has been one of the more special rivalries in the ACC, and it’s one of the unfortunate aspects of conference realignment.
Both teams will want to close this series with a victory, which could lead to a very exciting game.
Duke’s trip to the Carrier Dome will be a huge deal for the Orange, and Syracuse’s first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium will be a huge deal for the Blue Devils.
The Cameron Crazies will likely be in peak form for this showdown, and there could be major postseason implications for both teams at this point in the season.
Syracuse could have an opportunity to wrap up a regular-season conference championship, while Duke could potentially claw its way back into the race.
The Blue Devils have also shown this season that they’re simply a different team at home. It will be interesting to see how the Orange handle the Duke squad that’s been so difficult to stop in Cameron Indoor Stadium this year.
It never gets any bigger for the Duke basketball program than a game against North Carolina, particularly when it’s senior day for the Blue Devils.
Even if the regular-season standings are decided and there isn’t much to play for, this game still means a tremendous amount for both teams and fanbases in terms of bragging rights.
Considering how they’ve struggled with consistency this season, the Tar Heels could also be playing with an NCAA tournament berth on the line. Wouldn’t Duke love to be the team that beats the Heels to keep them out of the Big Dance?
It will also be the last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium for Josh Hairston, Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins, Todd Zafirovski and possibly Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.