Blue Devils head into ACC slate
The nonconference portion of Duke’s basketball schedule is complete, and the Blue Devils received a perfect grade.
The next phase of the basketball season begins today for the nation’s top-ranked team.
Duke puts its perfect record on the line against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium (noon, ESPN2) in the ACC opener for both teams.
For the Duke seniors, this game is especially significant.
“For me, speaking for myself but also guys like Seth (Curry) and Mason (Plumlee), the seniors, this is our last go-around,” Duke’s Ryan Kelly said. “We want to do something special. We feel like last year we didn’t do well, especially on our home court. We played well on the road but not at home. That’s something we have to take care of.”
The Blue Devils (13-0) achieved perfection in their eight ACC road games a year ago, highlighted by an 85-84 win at North Carolina on Austin Rivers’ buzz-beating 3-pointer. But after entering the season having not lost a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium since February 2009, Duke dropped three ACC home games in 2012.
Florida State, Miami and UNC all walked off Coach K Court with wins, as Duke finished 13-3 in league play to place second behind UNC in the regular-season standings.
Facing Wake Forest (7-5) today, the Blue Devils want to start a new conference winning streak in their fabled arena.
“This is the best part of the year, ACC play,” Duke junior guard Tyler Thornton said. “Our goal is to win the regular season and the tournament.”
Winning is all Duke has known this season. Ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press media and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls, the Blue Devils also own the No. 1 strength of schedule and No. 1 RPI, according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports.
Duke has wins over three teams currently in the AP’s top 10 — No. 4 Louisville, No. 8 Ohio State and No. 9 Minnesota. The Blue Devils also have defeated three other teams who received votes but didn’t crack this week’s Top 25 — Kentucky, VCU and Temple.
Because of that schedule, Curry said Duke heads into ACC play with an advantage over teams that don’t schedule as aggressively.
“The good thing about our schedule is we never really had a stretch where we were playing bad teams,” Curry said. “We had pretty good intensity and good games leading up to now. We don’t have to turn it up a notch like some teams do.”
According to Palm’s RPI on CBSsports.com, 10 of Duke’s 13 games have been played against teams currently in the top 100. Only Delaware, Cornell and Georgia State are outside of the top 100.
“Our games preparing us for the ACC have been great,” Plumlee said. “Like Coach said, we haven’t played any cupcakes.”
Oddly enough, Duke opens ACC play with two teams rated well outside the top 100. Wake Forest is at 187, while Clemson, which heads to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPNU), has the ACC’s worst RPI at 196.
Duke’s trio of senior starters has made sure this season got off to a great start against that rugged schedule.
Plumlee, a national player of the year candidate, leads Duke in scoring (18.8 points) and rebounding (11.2). Curry is next in scoring at 16.2 points, while Kelly is Duke’s third-leading scorer at 12.8 per game and is second in rebounding at 5.5 per game.
Now they get to face off the remainder of the regular season against ACC foes, playing 18 league games for the first time.
“It’s exciting,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of like a whole new start for this season.”