Devil of a Task; Which Team Will Hand Duke Its First Loss of the Season?

Charlie ScaturroCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2010

Devil of a Task; Which Team Will Hand Duke Its First Loss of the Season?

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    Through the first few weeks of the 2010 college basketball season, there aren't too many things that everyone can agree on.  But it's been hard to deny just how good the Duke Blue Devils have looked in the early going.

    Sure, Marquette and Michigan State played them close and Butler made them sweat it out for about 35 minutes of action, but under Coach K's guidance, this Duke team has looked poised and made some extremely impressive early season statements. 

    Along with those three wins, Duke also handily defeated a top five Kansas State team in a game that took place in Kansas City which was essentially a home game for the Wildcats.

    When you combine how good they've performed early on with the amount of experience and talent on their team, it's only natural for there to be some talk of Duke running the table and possibly enjoying a perfect season. 

    The last team to do so was the famed 1976 Indiana Hoosiers who were led by the infamous Bob Knight and finished their season with a perfect 32-0 record.

    More recently, there have been a handful of teams that looked like they might have what it takes to accomplish this historic feat, including the 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the 2005 St. Joseph's Hawks both of whom completed perfect regular seasons only to lose in either their conference tournament or the NCAA Tournament.

    And while there's little doubt that this 2010 Duke squad is a force to be reckoned with, today's news that Kyrie Irving will miss an indefinite amount of time is a huge blow to their chances of potentially running the table.

    But the question becomes who will take down the Goliath that is the Duke Blue Devils?

    Let's take a look at the rest of their schedule and see which teams are capable of handing the Blue Devils their first loss of the 2010-2011 college basketball season.     

Next Four Out of Conference Games:

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    Duke has already survived the toughest part of their non-conference schedule before ACC play tips off and while they still have a few teams standing in their way, it's unlikely they will be tested in any of these four games.

    They play Bradley, Saint Louis and Elon at home and then make the short trip to play North Carolina at Greensboro on the road.  The only team of these four who might be able to keep things respectable against Duke is Saint Louis who at least hails from a major conference (Atlantic 10) and has an experienced coach in Rick Majerus leading the way.

    But the Billikens lack size on the interior and have relied heavily on their freshman class thus far, not to mention the fact that they will be trying to pull off the upset in Cameron which even the most talented and experienced of teams would have trouble doing.

    Upset Alert: Non-Existent.  These teams just don't have the firepower to hang with Duke.

Sunday, January 2nd vs. Miami (FL)

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    Duke kicks off their ACC play against a hungry Miami team that is looking to build off their productive 20-13 record from a season ago.  Miami has started out their season winning six out of their first eight games, and they're fresh off a 79-76 victory over West Virginia, so they're no cupcake.

    In just their second game of the season Miami gave a ranked Memphis team all they could handle and narrowly lost by four in a game that was in doubt going into the final minute of play, proving that they have the talent to hang with some of the better teams in the land.

    Durand Scott and Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant are the leaders of this Miami team and have partnered together to make a formidable backcourt duo that can both score and distribute the basketball. 

    But the one player who might be able to really do some damage against the Blue Devils is Sophomore center, Reggie Johnson, and his 6'10'', 295 pound frame.

    Johnson has gotten off to a fantastic start this season and has not only recorded double-doubles in five of Miami's first eight games, but he's also given the Hurricanes a consistent scoring option in the post reaching double figures in every game thus far. 

    Upset Alert: Low.  While the trio of Scott, Grant and Johnson isn't anything to laugh at, it's going to be tough for them to pull off the upset in Cameron.

Wednesday, January 5th vs. UAB

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    UAB is generally a pretty tough customer for most of the teams on their schedule thanks to their up-tempo style of play and unwillingness to back down to anyone.  The Blazers might not have as much talent as some of the elite programs in the country, but they're going to scrap for the full 40 minutes and make you earn the W.

    UAB has a very nice backcourt which features Jamarr Sanders and their floor general Aaron Johnson, both of whom are seniors and should not be overwhelmed by the ruckus Cameron atmosphere.  The Blazers have also gotten a huge lift from two relatively unproven post players in their first nine games of the 2010 season. 

    Cameron Moore and Ovie Soko standing at 6'9'' and 6'8'' respectively, have given Mike Davis a much needed inside presence, and Moore is currently averaging over 19 points and nine rebounds per game in the early going.  But it's much easier to put up big numbers against South Alabama than Duke, although the Blue Devils would be wise not to overlook the success that either player has had thus far.

    Upset Alert: Moderate.  UAB always gets up for these games and what makes them even scarier is that they're shooting a very high percentage from three right now which is the great equalizer in college hoops.  Still, a much more talented Duke team playing at home shouldn't have too much trouble with the Blazers.

Sunday, January 9th vs. Maryland

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    Maryland has already shown in the early stages of the 2010 season that they will be a pesky team who never stops coming at their opposition.  They played both Pittsburgh and Illinois tough in the 2K Sports Classic, and despite not winning either game, they gave both teams about as much as they could handle. 

    Jordan Williams is a stud in the low post and possesses the footwork and soft touch around the basket, making him an incredibly effective player.  Williams is the kind of guy who could give Duke fits inside as long as he gets some help from the rest of the Terrapins. 

    And while the Maryland guards have talent, they've struggled with consistency thus far in the 2010 season.  Sean Mosley, Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Terrell Stoglin have all had their ups and downs through nine games, but the potential is there for them to play well on a given night.

    Upset Alert: Moderate.  Because of the Terrapins backcourt depth, Gary Williams hasn't been shy about pushing the tempo and utilizing the press more often this season.  These kind of tactics probably won't bother Duke too much, but if they catch Maryland on a night when their guards are playing well, it could be a closer than expected game.

Wednesday, January 12th at Florida State

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    Duke's first in-conference road game of the year comes against a talented Florida State team that is one of the best defensive squads the Blue Devils will face all season.

    The Seminoles also feature a legit star in Chris Singleton at forward who should give a guy like Kyle Singler nightmares with his blend of size, athleticism and defensive ability.  Singleton should also pose a considerable problem for Duke under the basket as the 6'9'' 225 pound Junior will no doubt see his share of scoring chances inside.

    In the backcourt, guys like Derwin Kitchen, Deividas Dulkys and Michael Snaer should not only be able to match up fairly well with the Duke guards, but Dulkys and Snaer are both shooting well over 40 percent from three right now which should help keep the Seminoles in the game.

    Upset Alert: High.  Playing one of their first true road games of the season against an above average, defensive-minded team like Florida State should be a challenge for Duke.  There's no doubt that the Blue Devils have the talent to win this game, but it won't be easy.

Saturday, January 15th vs. Virginia

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    A Virginia team that wasn't expected to do much in the ACC this season has already wheeled off some impressive wins in their first eight games of the season.  Sure they lost by 21 to Stanford and got embarrassed by Washington, but the Cavaliers are coming off back-to-back wins on the road against Minnesota and in-state rival Virginia Tech.

    This Virgina team should be considered dangerous because of their ability to heat up from behind the arc, just ask Minnesota who saw them hit 10 out of 13 from three which helped them outscore the Golden Gophers by 18 points in the second half en route to an eight-point victory.

    Players like Mustapha Farrakhan, Joe Harris, Will Sherrill and K.T. Harrell can all make opposing teams pay from deep and might just catch Duke sleeping if they're a little lazy challenging the outside shot. 

    But the biggest strength of this team is 6'8'' Mike Scott who has been on a tear during the Cavaliers first eight games averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per and should make Mason Plumlee and the rest of the Duke bigs take notice.

    Upset alert: Low.  If Virginia comes out hot from three, it could make this game interesting, but Duke is a very talented defensive team that shouldn't allow the Cavaliers to get going from the outside.

Wednesday, January 19th at N.C. State

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    Coming into the 2010 season, there was plenty of buzz surrounding the incoming freshman class that Sidney Lowe had brought to the Wolfpack faithful. 

    But having started the season with a 4-3 record which includes a 39-point embarrassment at the hands of Wisconsin, it's clear that N.C. State will be going through their share of growing pains this season. 

    Of course, the loss of senior bigman, Tracy Smith, hasn't helped matters either but barring any setbacks, he will be playing by the time the Wolfpack tangle with Duke on January 19th.

    Even the most talented freshmen go through their share of growing pains, but Ryan Harrow, Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie have all shown flashes of why they're part of one of the top ranked classes in the country this season and because they have over a month to work on their consistency before they play Duke, this could be a much scarier team by the time January 19th rolls around.

    Upset Alert: Low.  It's tough to say where this team will be over a month from now as it's clear they've struggled through Smith's injury and their first seven games.  But they will have Smith back when they take on Duke, and Scott Wood has emerged as the type of three-point shooter who can take over a game, so this may end up being a closer game than it seems at this point.

Saturday, January 22nd at Wake Forest

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    If Wake Forest had managed to keep a few of their players from last year's team, they might pose a formidable challenge to the Blue Devils.  But having lost four of their five starters from a year ago, the Demon Deacons sport a young and overall inexperienced roster, although they have some talented freshmen.

    Two of these freshmen, Travis McKie and J.T. Terrell, have gotten off to fast starts and currently are the top two scorers on the roster.  And while it looks like the Demon Deacons have something to build on for the future, the fact that their best win of the young season came against a middling Iowa team and their three losses have come at the hands of Stetson, VCU and Winthrop doesn't inspire much confidence.

    Upset Alert: Non-existent.  They're too young of a team and Duke's too good for a possible upset to happen here.

Thursday, January 27th vs. Boston College

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    Boston College isn't the most talented team in the ACC, but they seem to be getting a lot out of the players they do have.  Steve Donahue inherited a veteran roster with three upperclassmen in Reggie Jackson, Corey Raji and Joe Trapani who have spearheaded a 6-2 start.

    Three of these six wins have come against Indiana, Texas A&M and California and while these teams aren't anywhere as talented as Duke, they're something this BC program can build off of.  Sure, they also lost to Yale, but it's going to take some time for Donahue to implement his system with Al Skinners players.

    Even so, it seems as if Reggie Jackson has established himself as the leader of this Boston College team and has put up an impressive stat line of 18 points, four rebounds, four assists, and nearly two steals per game in the early going.  When you add in the fact that he's shooting 42 percent from three, Boston College has a player that can carry them on a given night.

    Upset Alert: Non-existent.  It's going to be extremely tough for Boston College to match up with the likes of Irving and Smith in the backcourt, and the Eagles don't have much of an inside presence that could give this Duke front court problems either.

Sunday, January 30th at St. John's

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    The Blue Devils take a break from conference play at the end of January and travel to New York City to take on a solid St. John's team.  Steve Lavin inherited a veteran squad (10 seniors) that is extremely deep and versatile, giving the first year head coach plenty of options in terms of matchups and potential player pairings.

    Justin Brownlee, D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy have led the way thus far for the Red Storm, but Lavin has played a deep rotation that has given eight players significant minutes.  St. John's has gotten out to a 5-2 start, but they've lost to the two best teams they've played thus far in St. Mary's and St. Bonaventure.

    Even so, this meeting has the potential to be somewhat of a trap game for Duke, they're going on the road to play an experienced, deep team that has a coach who isn't intimidated by Duke's aura.  On top of that, by the time this game rolls around, St. John's will have played six teams that are currently ranked so you know this team will be battle tested and looking to score an upset.

    Upset Alert: Low.  There's no doubt that Duke is the more talented team, but St. John's has no shortage of depth and experience.  Guys like Brownlee, Justin Burrell and Kennedy could pose some problems for Duke in terms of matchups, but at the end of the day, it would be surprising if the Red Storm pulled off the upset. 

Wednesday, February 2nd at Maryland

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    Funny things can happen when you play a heated rival on the road, and last year's Duke team can attest to the fact that the Maryland Terrapins are a much better team at the Comcast Center. 

    When the two teams met for the first time last year, Duke won pretty handily, dispatching of the Terrapins by 21 in Cameron, but they faced a different Maryland squad the second time around and suffered a bitter seven-point defeat.

    This game in early February could have a very similar feel to it, and you can be sure that every Terrapin fan in the state of Maryland will fill the Comcast Center to capacity and get as rowdy as possible in hopes of witnessing another upset. 

    Obviously, Greivis Vasquez is gone, and there's no doubt that he was the main catalyst during Maryland's upset over Duke last season.  But Maryland has a solid group of players this year, a low-post stud in Jordan Williams and some streaky guards who just might have the game of their lives in the presence of one of the most electric crowds they've ever played in front of.

    Upset Alert: High.  It will be an uphill battle for this Maryland team, but this game is about as tough of a matchup that Duke will face for the rest of their regular season schedule.

Saturday, February 5th vs. N.C. State

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    Because of how young the Wolfpack are overall, this game might actually be more of a challenge for Duke than playing N.C. State on the road earlier in the season. 

    By this time, the talented freshman class will have had over 20 games to mesh with the returning players on the roster, not to mention giving ample opportunity for Tracy Smith to recover from injury.

    You could make the same argument about Duke and their ultra-talented freshman Kyrie Irving, but he seems a lot more polished and ready for play at the collegiate level than any of the freshmen on North Carolina State.

    Upset Alert: Moderate.  When you have a team with this much potential, you never really know how far they're going to mature over the course of a season.  In early December, it's obvious that they're still trying to work out the kinks and really miss Tracy Smith.  But in early February, who knows just how far this team will have come.

Wednesday, February 9th vs. North Carolina

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    We've already seen in the early going that North Carolina team is still a work in progress.  The Tar Heels need more consistent guard play, and Harrison Barnes has had trouble finding his stride through his first eight collegiate games. 

    But make no mistake, the North Carolina bigmen are a force to be reckoned with. 

    Tyler Zeller has established himself as one of the premier bigs in the ACC and possibly the country, while John Henson has been playing much more inspired ball than he did during his Freshman season.

    And while there's little doubt that Carolina's 5-3 start and plummet out of the Top 25 has been disappointing to Tar Heel fans, their most recent win over Kentucky shows the team has the talent to hang with anyone on a given day when they put it all together.

    This is definitely bad news for Duke who won't have the opportunity to face North Carolina until much later in the season, when presumably Roy Williams and the Tar Heels will have things running a little smoother than they currently are.     
    Upset Alert: High.  Duke and the Cameron crazies will definitely be hyped up for this game, and you know this is one of the biggest events that Coach K circled on his calendar right when the schedule came out.  Duke definitely has superior guard play over North Carolina, but with Zeller and Henson leading this team against a Duke frontcourt, that can be taken advantage of under the basket; anything can happen.

Sunday, February 13th at Miami (FL)

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    The fact that Duke will be going on the road to play this game should make things closer than they were the first time these two teams met.  Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant should see a boost in their play because they will have the full support of the Hurricane faithful.

    Last season when Duke played at Miami, they trailed by 12 at intermission and needed a passionate Krzyzewski halftime speech and a furious second-half comeback to win by just seven points.  And when Miami went into Cameron, they lost by just three in the ACC semifinals on the heels of Durand Scott's 21 point performance.

    In his short career, Scott has played extremely well against Duke averaging 20 points on over 60 percent shooting in the two games he's faced the Blue Devils.

    Upset Alert: Moderate.  You can bet Miami will get up for this game, and stranger things have happened on the road in college basketball than Duke losing to Miami.  Still, I think this game being close rests on the broad shoulders of Reggie Johnson who could potentially make a huge difference in the paint if he's able to stay out of foul trouble.

Wednesday, February 16th at Virginia

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    Duke is the much more talented team, and this game will only be close if the Cavaliers are able to hit their three's.  That being said, Virginia is shooting 42 percent from behind the arc this season, and with guys like Farrakhan, Harris and Harrell jacking up treys, you never know what can happen.

    The fact that this game takes place towards the end of the season should help a young Virginia team that has seven freshmen on their roster and should be especially beneficial for youngsters like Joe Harris, K.T. Harrell and Jontel Evans who have already started to make a big impact for Tony Bennett.

    Upset Alert: Low.  Virginia could come out energized by their home crowd and start scorching the nets from deep but even that might not be enough to beat the juggernaut that is Duke.

Sunday, February 20th vs. Georgia Tech

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    The Yellow Jackets are finding out that life can be very difficult when you lose your starting frontcourt to the NBA.  Paul Hewitt's squad has started the year 4-3 which includes an extremely disappointing 17-point loss to Kennesaw State.

    Through their first seven games, Georgia Tech has started a young lineup which features four underclassmen leaving junior, Iman Shumpert, to lead the way.  Iman's a nice player, no doubt about it, but he's not the type of guy who can carry a young team by himself.

    Georgia Tech's biggest weakness thus far has been their shooting which has put a somewhat undermanned team in an even deeper hole because of their inability to efficiently score points. 

    As a team, the Yellow Jackets are shooting just over 40 percent overall and a paltry 26 percent from three, which should spell disaster against a Duke team that can score with anyone in the country.

    Upset Alert: Non-Existent.  The fact that Georgia Tech doesn't have a dominant player in the frontcourt really hurts their chances of even keeping this game close, and because they've struggled so much shooting the ball, if they were to fall behind early, they're dead in the water.

Wednesday, February 23rd vs. Temple

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    The Temple Owls started the 2010 season ranked 22nd after they returned Juan Fernandez, Lavoy Allen and some nice supporting players.  But it didn't take long for Fran Dunphy's boys to fall out of the Top 25 after they stumbled against California and again at Texas A&M.

    Despite losing two of their first seven games, this Temple team is experienced enough to potentially give Duke a decent fight when they come to Cameron in late February.  However, because Temple plays a shallow rotation and isn't a high-scoring team, they will likely have problems trading blows with a potent Blue Devils offense. 

    It also doesn't help Temple's chances that they will play 14 straight games against A-10 or unranked competition before they head into Cameron to face what will no doubt be the most hostile environment they will have seen all season.    

    Upset Alert: Low.  Because they lack depth and firepower, it's going to be extremely tough for this Temple team to come into Cameron and shock Duke.

Saturday, February 26th at Virginia Tech

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    It's been an extremely tough start to what was supposed to be a breakout year for Virginia Tech. 

    Granted, the Hokies have faced off against some formidable competition including; Kansas State, Purdue, and UNLV but that still doesn't explain their rather puzzling letdown against a Virginia team that was picked to finish towards the bottom of the ACC.

    And despite the fact that both Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson have struggled against the best teams that Virginia Tech has played thus far, it's hard to doubt they have the ability to almost single-handedly keep the Hokies in any game.

    Delaney is one of the best players Duke will see all season, and it should be riveting to watch him and these Duke guards trade blows for 40 minutes of action. 

    The big question for Seth Greenberg's crew is whether they can get productive minutes from their frontcourt outside of Jeff Allen.  This could very well determine how competitive they are against Duke.   

    Upset Alert: High.  When you're playing against a guy like Delaney, who is capable of taking over any game, there's always the possibility that you come away with a loss.  The fact that Virginia Tech will be playing at home only makes this more of a reality, so Duke better come to play on February 26th.

Wednesday, March 2nd vs. Clemson

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    Clemson is still working towards being a more consistent team at this point in the season, but that doesn't mean they can't be a much better squad by the time March rolls around. 

    There's no doubt that this team misses Trevor Booker but players like Milton Jennings and Devin Booker (yes, he's Trevor's younger brother) have shown early flashes of brilliance under the basket, but they still have some maturing to do. 

    The Tigers do have a stable backcourt which features the steady veteran presence of Demontez Stitt and Andre Young, both of whom have been a part of Clemson teams that have gone head to head with Duke in the past and come away with a W.

    However, most of the players who were a major part of those victories have graduated, and you're looking at a Clemson squad that has already lost games to Old Dominion, Michigan and South Carolina. 

    Upset Alert: Low.  Clemson is a solid team, and they may very well be much better off by the time they face Duke on March 2nd, but the Tigers are going to have to play the game of their lives to take down Duke at Cameron.

Saturday, March 5th at North Carolina

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    It's only fitting that the last team standing in the way of an undefeated Duke regular season would be North Carolina. 

    As we've all seen, the Tar Heels have started 2010 off on the wrong foot, but speaking strictly from a talent standpoint, Roy Williams squad is one of the toughest teams Duke will face all season.

    Regardless of how Carolina's season plays out or whether Duke is still undefeated when this game rolls around, you know that the Dean Dome will be a loud and hostile environment that will make things very tough on the Blue Devils. 

    At this point in the season, you would expect a guy like Harrison Barnes to be playing his best ball after figuring out his role on this Tar Heels team.

    If that's the case, a front line which features Barnes playing up to his potential along with Zeller and Henson is a pretty scary thought for anyone to go up against, even Duke.

    Of course, those three will need help from the North Carolina backcourt if they're going to pull off the upset.

    Upset Alert: High.  This is the toughest game left on Duke's schedule and while it's hard to predict how this Carolina team will progress over a long season, they will pull out all the stops to try and ruin Duke's run at perfection. 

Summing It Up

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    While the ACC is down overall this season there should be quite a few roadblocks on Duke's way to a perfect season.  Their games at Florida State, at Maryland, at Miami, at Virginia Tech and the two games they play against UNC should all be tough challenges for the Blue Devils.

    All of these teams aren't on par with Duke, but on any given night, they could heat up and shock Coach K's squad.  The news that Kyrie Irving will miss an indefinite amount of time with a toe injury is heartbreaking to this Duke squad and shows that the college basketball season can be very unpredictable.  

    Whatever happens to Duke for the rest of this season, it should make for some compelling story lines so let's sit back and watch what unfolds over the coming weeks and months.