Duke Going To Run the Table? The Blue Devils Could Go Undefeated in ACC Play

Justin McTeerCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2010

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 27:  Nolan Smith #2 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots a layup against the Oregon Ducks on November 27, 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Pretty much everyone knew that the ACC was in for a down year prior to the start of the season.

Conference stars like Jon Scheyer and Greivis Vasquez graduated, younger players like Derrick Favors and Al-Farouq Aminu left early for the NBA, and coaching changes were made at Boston College, Clemson, and Wake Forest. Those are the kinds of factors that lead to a down year in any conference.

That said, not many expected the ACC to be this down. How often do ACC teams lose to teams like Yale and Kennesaw State University, after all?

It's been a while since this conference has been the best conference in the country from top to bottom. 

During the 2008-09 season, the bottom half of the conference was pretty weak.  The top half, however, had three teams that were ranked No. 1 in the nation at different times in the season with Duke, Wake Forest, and the eventual national champion North Carolina Tar Heels.

The ACC has the No. 1 team in the nation once again with Duke, but it's entirely possible that they'll be the only ranked team in the conference from this point on.

While the defending national champion Blue Devils have lived up to their hype as the best team in America so far, the rest of the conference has struggled mightily.  As a result, many are wondering if any ACC team has the chance to beat the Blue Devils this season, let alone challenge them for the conference title.

North Carolina was picked as the second best team in the conference by the media.  They began the season as the No. 8 team in the country, but completely fell out of the polls after back-to-back losses to unranked Minnesota and Vanderbilt in just the second week of the season.

A recent win against No. 10 (at the time) Kentucky shows that the Tar Heels have the talent, particularly in the frontcourt, to beat good teams.  At the same time, the Wildcats aren't on Duke's level and North Carolina's win was anything but dominant. 

The Tar Heels deserve all the credit in the win, playing with heart and executing down the stretch.  But Kentucky is incredibly young and lacks depth.  Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones were a combined 8-29 from the field and both fouled out along with Elroy Vargas and Josh Harrellson.  Amidst all that, the Tar Heels won by just two points at home—hardly convincing.

While North Carolina is certainly the second most talented team in the ACC, they don't look ready to challenge Duke anytime soon.

Virginia Tech was supposed to be a major player in the ACC this year.  They started the season ranked No. 22 in the nation.

To the surprise of many who thought Virginia Tech was primed to be one of the best teams in the nation (myself included), the Hokies are off to a weak start at 4-4.

Losses to Kansas State and Purdue aren't black eyes for Virginia Tech.  Even the loss to UNLV was understandable.  But their conference season-opening loss to Virginia at home is a different story.

Sure, the Cavaliers have surprised people so far this year.  They beat a ranked Minnesota team in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but they are still far from one of the most talented squads in the ACC this year.  A good, but not great, Washington team beat them by 43 points earlier this season.

The Hokies have had some unfortunate injuries this season, particularly with J.T. Thompson.  But even with star Malcolm Delaney scoring 20 points a game (and playing a staggering 39.3 minutes per night), Virginia Tech hasn't shown the ability to put enough points on the board to hang with a team like Duke.

North Carolina State is a team that a lot of people are expecting big things from this season.

Their talented freshman trio of Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie, and Ryan Harrow are off to decent starts, but the loss of Tracy Smith has hit the Wolfpack hard.  They have lost three of their last four games, including a 39-point blowout loss against Wisconsin on the road. 

Smith should be back soon, but it looks like the Wolfpack have a lot of issues to work out before they'll be ready to play like a top-tier ACC team.

The jury is still out on the rest of the conference, but no one has emerged that looks like a legitimate challenge for the Blue Devils.

Maryland has showed promise.  Jordan Williams is certainly a great post player, but the Terrapin guards have a long way to go.  Miami has some talent to compliment Durand Scott, but they are young.  Florida State is once again a great defensive team that struggles to score.

No ACC team has shown the ability to play at Duke's level so far this season, and it's not like the Blue Devils don't have room for improvement either.  Kyle Singler hasn't started playing to his potential yet, and Duke's frontcourt players have a lot of room to grow.

The last ACC team to go through the conference season without a loss was the 98-99 Blue Devils.  This Duke team might not be as talented as those Blue Devils, but the ACC isn't nearly as good as it was then.

No one is predicting an undefeated season for the Blue Devils.  No one is even predicting an undefeated conference season for one big reason—it just doesn't happen that much and the odds are definitely not in favor of any team running the table in any conference, whether it's the ACC or the Great West.

But no one can deny that as the season has worn on, Duke has only distanced themselves from the rest of the conference.

The Blue Devils have made it past Kansas State, Michigan State, and Butler without a loss.  In all likelihood, Duke will win the rest of its non-conference games heading into ACC play.  The ACC schedule is the only thing that realistically stands in the way of Duke going undefeated in the regular season, and none of the conferences' teams is close to the Spartans or Wildcats.

Will the Blue Devils be the first undefeated team to enter the NCAA tournament since UNLV in 1991?  The odds aren't in Duke's favor.

But unless something changes with the rest of the teams in the ACC, those odds are going to change.