— I don’t want to do it. In fact, I feel silly doing it. Because, you know, its December 2nd. We’re not even a full month into the season yet, and we have a solid four months worth of games left.
But after Duke’s 84-79 win over Michigan State tonight, the question has to be asked — can this Duke team go undefeated?
December is usually way too early to be asking that kind of question, but Duke is just that good. The Blue Devils are now 7-0 with wins over two of the top five or six teams in the country, and Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have yet to find their groove.
Making the argument that much simpler is the fact that the Blue Devils schedule has gotten much, much easier as the first month of the season has played out. What I mean is that Michigan State, as of today, was the last ranked team on Duke’s schedule.
Right now, there is not another top 25 team on the Blue Devil’s schedule.
The Blue Devils essentially have three more non-conference games that matter. They play Butler at the Izod Center in New Jersey on Saturday, they head to New York to take on St. John’s January 30th, and they host Temple on February 23rd. Butler may still be the best team in the Horizon League, but they are a far cry from a Final Four contender right now and may very well be without their point guard Ronald Nored on Saturday. Road games against power conferences opponents are always difficult, and the Johnnies have a track record of playing Duke tough. The Owls have struggled early on, but they are too good not to turn it around by February.
Temple may end up being the best candidate to knock off Duke, because no one else in the ACC seems all that concerned with, you know, winning games. UNC is no where near as good as they were expected to be. Florida State and NC State have been less than impressive in their matchups with meaningful opponents. Virginia Tech is struggling. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Maryland and Boston College are the second and third best teams in the conference right now.
No disrespect to the Eagles or the Terps, but that is not a good sign. Neither of those teams will strike fear into the hearts of the Cameron Crazies.
So do I think Duke will go undefeated?
Like it or not, these are still 18-22 year old kids here. They are going to have bad games. There are going to be nights when the shots aren’t falling. As good as Kyrie Irving looked tonight, he is still a freshman. He’s not going to score 31 points every night. He hasn’t yet experienced an ACC road game. (The “neutral site” matchup with Kansas State did come close.) Mason and Miles Plumlee are going to get into foul trouble.
The last time we had a conversation like this in December was back in 2008 when North Carolina was head and shoulders above the rest of the country. After they destroyed then-No. 3 Michigan State by 35 points at Ford Field on Dec. 3rd of that year, the peanut galleries started talking abou a potential undefeated season. That Tar Heels team ended up losing two of their first three in ACC play — including a loss at home to Boston College — and finished the year with four losses.
Duke will be as prepared as anyone heading into every game this season. They have enough senior leadership that I doubt they will come out flat against a lesser opponent. They have enough talent that they can win games even if they don’t play their best game.
But they also go on the road to play the five teams competing for second in the ACC, including Maryland and North Carolina. In each of those road games, the home crowd will take the game as seriously as the national title, especially if Duke comes in undefeated. Opponents — and opposing home courts — always get up for the Dukies. The intensity level will only rise if and when its No. 1 Duke protecting a perfect record. Somewhere along the line, they are going to get clipped in a game they should win.
And it will probably happen more than once.
So, no, I don’t think Duke will go undefeated this season.
I do, however, expect the Blue Devils to go undefeated when it counts: in March.