2010-11 Duke Basketball: Ten Teams That Could Take Down the Blue Devils
A basic principle of college basketball is: Duke wins games—lots of games.
Most seasons, Duke wins about 80 percent or more of its games.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to four NCAA championships, 11 Final Fours (tied for second most in NCAA history), 12 ACC regular-season titles, and 12 ACC tournament championships in over 30 seasons at Duke.
Fighting this postulate is like fighting the Laws of Nature: You end up fighting the way the world is.
Another basic principle of college basketball is: Duke loses games.
Coach K has never had an undefeated season. In the last three decades, the Blue Devils have lost 220 times, which sounds like a lot, but it really isn't. That's an average of only seven losses per season.
In the four seasons that they won NCAA championships, they have lost 18 games.
- 1990-91 -- 7 losses
- 1991-92 -- 2 losses
- 2000-01 -- 4 losses
- 2009-10 -- 5 losses
Going into the upcoming 2010-11 season, as they defend their crown, it's safe to say that the Blue Devils will come up short in a few contests.
The following are 10 teams that Duke plays on its schedule, or could play in the NCAA tournament, that might take the Blue Devils down.
Michigan State Spartans
Duke will face one of its toughest opponents early in the season, Michigan State on Dec. 1.
The Spartans are primed for a huge season in 2010-11. They are ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason Top 25.
''I want expectations to be high. It's a good thing," head coach Tom Izzo said. "I probably complain about it some. But when you don't have it, you say, 'I wish it was there.'"
The Spartans are coming off of their sixth Final Four appearance in the last 12 seasons, with 82 percent of their scoring returning.
Senior guard Kalin Lucas has been selected as the Big Ten preseason player of the year. Lucas led Michigan State with 14.8 points per game and 131 assists last season.
Michigan State, with its combination of athleticism and physicality, is the kind of team that will challenge the Blue Devils. The Spartans will play in-your-jock defense and crash the boards.
Even though the game is at Cameron Indoor Stadium, this will be a huge test for Duke. Plus, the two could also be paired in March for a little Madness.
The Bulldogs are coming off of an extraordinary, historic season that ended in a two-point loss in the national championship against the Blue Devils.
Butler will have a chip on its shoulder when it squares off with Duke in December.
It will be led by Shelvin Mack (13.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.2 APG last season), who had an outstanding performance in the NCAA tournament. Mack is a preseason Wooden Award nominee.
Senior forward Matt Howard will provide strong inside play, and Ronald Nored will provide an excellent backcourt running mate for Mack. That will give Butler strong guard play to match up with Duke's exceptional perimeter players.
Duke has a history of losing at least once (each of the last three years) in non-conference play.
Butler has the players and has the motivation to get revenge on Dec. 4th.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
NC State head coach Sidney Lowe is just one of a few coaches under pressure to succeed this season. What would be better than taking out a nearby rival that also is the defending national champion?
Lowe may have his best team since taking over the program four years ago.
NC State returns three starters.
Power forward Tracy Smith (6'8" 247 lbs.) is, by far, the best of the returnees. He led the Wolfpack last season in scoring (16.5 PPG), rebounding (7.3 RPG) and field-goal percentage (52.4).
Javier Gonzalez and Scott Wood give Lowe plenty of talent on the perimeter.
What may be the biggest reason for excitement among the Wolfpack faithful is three outstanding recruits.
NC State scored big when it landed 5-star prospect C.J. Leslie in an intense recruiting battle with Kentucky.
A dynamic backcourt of 5-star prospect Ryan Harrow and 4-star prospect Lorenzo Brown will team with Leslie, giving NC State the second-best recruiting class in the ACC and the fifth-best nationally.
Last January, NC State beat Duke in Raleigh, 88-74.
At the time, Duke had lost six of its last eight conference road games.
Will that same trend continue into the 2010-11 schedule?
The Wolfpack can circle "January 19" on the calendar, when they have another chance to knock off the Blue Devils at the RBC Center.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Teams sometimes struggle to play well in certain locations. That is the case for Duke in Winston-Salem.
Since 2002-03, the Blue Devils have lost more road games against Wake Forest than at any other school.
The Demon Deacons have won five of the last six games played at Wake Forest.
This year might be more of a challenge for first-year head coach Jeff Bzdelik's team, as it returns only one starter (C.J. Harris) from last year's 20-11 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Seven-footer Ty Walker and 6’11” Carson Desrosiers give Wake Forest a pair of long, athletic big men.
Wake Forest landed a five-man recruiting class, including four 4-star prospects. This infusion of young talent could give the Demon Deacons a fighting chance in the ACC.
Who knows? Wake Forest's home game against Duke, on Saturday, Jan. 22, is a huge day that could impact the ACC season.
Half of beating a team like the Blue Devils is just believing that you can do it.
Veteran head coach Gary Williams should be able to help this year's Maryland team with that.
Last season, the Terrapins shared the regular-season conference title with Duke. For the same season, Williams earned his second ACC Coach of the Year award.
But maybe even more importantly, Maryland has beaten Duke three times in the last four seasons.
A main emphasis in Williams' offensive strategy is getting the ball inside to the post.
Being able to do that should be no problem with sophomore Jordan Williams down low. He is a physical player with an NBA-ready body (6'10", 260 lbs).
Williams, an ACC All-Freshman team selection, ranked second in the ACC in rebounding and first among freshmen. He is only the third Terrapin freshman in history with 250 points and 250 boards, along with Joe Smith and Buck Williams. That is nice company to keep.
The Blue Devils visit College Park on Feb. 2.
Can the Terrapins make it four out of the last five?
Beyond overall talent, one of the reasons why the Owls have a chance to knock off the Blue Devils is their ability to defend the three. They held opponents to 28.5 percent beyond the arc last year, good for the third-lowest in the nation.
Their late-season matchup on Feb. 23 versus Temple may help the Blue Devils get ready for the upcoming NCAA tournament. But it may be a chance for the Owls to sneak up on Duke.
The Owls won 29 games last season and return four of their top five scorers.
Lavoy Allen, a 6'9" senior forward, was a first-team All-Atlantic 10 Conference performer, and he became the first Temple player to average a double-double since Ollie Johnson in 1970-71.
Last year's No. 2 scorer and assist leader, Juan Fernandez (12.6 PPG), will move from shooting guard to point guard.
Temple has the chance to match the Blue Devils perimeter players as well as anyone on Duke's schedule.
If Temple does, it could mean a rare Cameron Indoor Stadium loss for Coach K.
North Carolina Tar Heels
While this is one of the most storied rivalries in college basketball, last season the contests between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils were just not the same.
The Tar Heels were a mess last season. In their long, difficult season, North Carolina lost twice to the Blue Devils—by 10 at home and by an embarrassing 32-point margin at Duke.
While the folks in Chapel Hill want to write the entire 2009-10 season off, North Carolina actually had something to build on after an unlikely run through the NIT. It seems strange talking about North Carolina and the NIT in the same breath.
Larry Drew II, John Henson and Tyler Zeller form a decent returning core.
The better news is the recruiting class that Roy Williams brought in for the upcoming season.
Headlining the No. 4 recruiting class in the country is Harrison Barnes.
Barnes was named an AP preseason All-American, becoming the first freshman to be selected since voting began before the 1986-87 season.
Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated said that Barnes is "the best wing player to hit college since Kevin Durant." No small praise.
North Carolina and Duke will play each other at least twice—Feb. 9 and March 5—in the 2010-11 season.
By then, Williams should have the Tar Heels firing on all cylinders, and we may again see some great basketball matchups on Tobacco Road.
The next three teams are not on Duke's regular-season schedule, but if the Blue Devils meet them in the NCAA tournament, anything could happen.
Gonzaga can beat anyone in the country.
Not because of superior talent. Not because of an individual superstar that could carry Mark Few's team to a victory. But because the 'Zags have an X-factor, something that goes beyond scouting reports or individual matchups.
They have simply proven, season after season, that when the ball is tipped, they are ready to play—and afraid of no one.
As far as the 2010-11 Bulldogs go, they return four starters from last season's team that won 27 games.
Elias Harris, a preseason Wooden Award top 50 nominee, is a potential first-round NBA draft pick. Last season he averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Though I am not an ongoing fan of Gonzaga, I enjoy seeing them play teams like Duke.
Another wild card that could take down the Blue Devils is Jamie Dixon's Pittsburgh Panthers.
Normally one of the most physically tough teams, Pittsburgh brings a level of intensity—almost brutally—that drives most teams crazy.
Pittsburgh’s only real loss off of its 25-9 team in 2009-10 was Jermaine Dixon.
Ashton Gibbs may be the Big East's leading scorer this year, and Brad Wanamaker is ranked among ESPN’s top 10 most-versatile players in the country.
While Duke's sheer basketball talent may be enough to handle a team like Pittsburgh, don't count out Jamie Dixon and the Panthers if they play Duke. They are more than able to hold their own with anyone.
Kansas State Wildcats
Most years, if I was choosing a college basketball team from Kansas to put on a list of schools that could beat the Duke Blue Devils, 99 out of 100 people would guess Kansas University.
But this season, Frank Martin's Kansas State Wildcats are up to the challenge.
Ranked No. 3 in both the AP and USA Today polls, Kansas State is ready to make a run to Reliant Stadium in Houston, the site of this season's Final Four.
Even after losing key players, Kansas State may have just as much talent as it did last season.
Jacob Pullen is the obvious star of this team, after averaging 19.3 points and 3.4 assists per game last season, while Curtis Kelly is to the frontcourt what Pullen is to the backcourt.
The Wildcats are another fearless team, which creates some interesting results in the NCAA tournament.
If Duke squares off against Martin's Wildcats, watch out!
Will Coach K cut down the nets again?
We are a long way from knowing the answer, but the Blue Devils, on paper, are the best team in the country.
The games, however, are not played on paper. They are settled on the hardwood.
Lots of strange things happen during the course of a college basketball season—things such as injuries, shooting slumps, foul trouble and home-cooking from road referees.
Even with his super-talented team, Coach K will have to sit through a few post-game press conferences and field questions about why the Blue Devils didn't win.
These 10 teams could be the ones that put him in that uncomfortable position.