The year 2008 has been put to bed, and it is the end of a winter cruise for the Blue Devils.
The result? A top-five ranking, 11 wins with 10 by double-digit margins, a tournament championship, and the coming-out party for a bona–fide star in Kyle Singler.
On the negative side, there is the rematch loss to Michigan, the injury to the knee of point guard Nolan Smith, and the sobering reality that Duke continues to play for the three-point shot with little inside presence.
Still, the Blue Devils make an excellent bulls–eye for the upcoming opponents in the first half of January. A win over the High Priest of the ACC and his McDonald's All-Americans can make a season for the teams who face Duke in the next two weeks.
First up is Virginia Tech on Sunday, Jan. 4. Not known for sophistication in the hardwood battle plans of coach Seth Greenberg, the Gobblers bring out the worst in the Blue Devils with their physical play.
It took a miracle shot by ace defender Sean Dockery to beat the Hokies, 77–75, in Cameron Indoor Stadium three years ago. It may be even closer this time.
Next up will be old foe Davidson. Those fans new to the Duke–Davidson rivalry may not realize the Wildcats made their name in basketball by beating No. 1-ranked Duke, 72–69, in December of 1962.
Davidson is fully capable of giving the Blue Devils another landmark loss, behind the play of the son of former Virginia Tech star Dell Curry, Stephen.
On the following Saturday afternoon Duke journeys to a most inhospitable place, Tallahassee, to take on Florida State. The Seminoles have been a thorn in the side of the Blue Devils since their second year in the ACC.
The Seminoles are currently 12–2, with road wins over California and Cincinnati, as well as a victory over Florida. Expect more "on the road" trouble for the Blue Devils.
The world's best "classy rivalry" game takes place on Wednesday, the 14th, when Duke challenges Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
These two strong academic programs, well matched on the court throughout the past quarter century, usually bring out the best in each other. A rocking battle with the typical "mature–appearing" NBA athletes of the Yellow Jackets is generally the order of the day.
Expect no less this time around as Ga. Tech is led by the dynamic 6'8", 220-pound sophomore Gani Lawal, who averages a double double of 17 points and 10 rebounds a game, while playing less than 30 minutes an outing.
Finally, on Saturday the 17th, the frightening Hoyas of Georgetown arrive in Durham, complete with 6'10" freshman center Greg Monroe.
You no doubt remember Monroe, the youngster coach Krzyzewski sacrificed an entire year recruiting, only to be told in the final days he preferred the company of John Thompson III. Fear not, Blue Devil faithful, Miles Plumlee will likely spend more years playing college ball than Monroe. That may not be a good thing in this case.
The way the first half of January, 2009 stacks up it would seem a freight train is headed for Duke. Will the Blue Devils continue to play consistently good defense? Can they stand up to the pressure of so many rugged games back to back? Can Smith recover from his twisted knee?
These five games will determine if Duke has learned anything from their quick exits in the past two NCAA Tournaments or, if they will continue to plot a course for abandoning their once magical grip on the post–season.
The grim reality is that this test will be only the mid–term, the bulk of the mighty ACC schedule lies in waiting as a final exam.