Blue Devils set for next challenge
The job of building a quality NCAA Tournament résumé normally takes an entire season.
This year’s Duke team has accomplished it in three weeks.
Heading into today’s game with Delaware at Cameron Indoor Stadium (2 p.m., ESPNU), the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils already own three wins over teams that were ranked in the top five when the game was played.
Kentucky, then No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, fell to the Blue Devils 75-68 in Atlanta on Nov. 13. Duke topped then No. 2 Louisville 76-71 a week ago in the Bahamas. Ohio State, No. 4 for now, lost 73-68 to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night.
For good measure, Duke also threw in an 89-71 win over Minnesota, currently ranked No. 21, last week in the Bahamas.
That’s a serious schedule that has allowed Duke the opportunity for accomplishments no team in the country can currently match. It’s also given the Blue Devils unrivaled confidence.
“The schedule at Duke is part of the reason you come to Duke,” Blue Devils senior center Mason Plumlee said. “I’ve seen this team embrace the schedule and the challenges we’ve had.
“We’ve got to keep getting better. The best thing is, we’re getting better while winning. You don’t want to get better through losing, so this is good.”
After the come-from-behind win over Ohio State, where the Blue Devils rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said rather bluntly that this year’s team is better than last year’s. Duke finished the 2011-12 season with a 27-7 record and placed second in the ACC with a 13-3 record.
But three league losses at home, plus the NCAA Tournament loss to Lehigh in Greensboro, marred the campaign.
So far, this Duke team appears stronger in all phases.
“With our team, we do not have to build character, we have it,” Krzyzewski said. “We just have to get it even higher.”
Because Duke has played so many top teams, the Blue Devils won’t be found in the top 50 of national statistical rankings for things such as field goal percentage or scoring defense or steals per game.
Duke is 44th in the country in scoring offense at 78 points per game.
Yet the Blue Devils are one of 26 teams that remain unbeaten, and only five teams can match Duke’s 7-0 record.
But none have played a schedule like Duke’s.
“I think we’ve proven that we want to be good, that we’re going to fight,” Plumlee said. “Winning is the priority of everybody’s game. But from there, we can’t be satisfied seven games into the season, you know. It’s a long season; we want to be peaking at the end. So we’re heading in the right direction.”
Delaware (2-5) heads into Cameron Indoor Stadium having also played a tough schedule, but the Blue Hens have struggled. Picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association, Delaware lost by single digits to Temple (80-75) and Kansas State (66-63).
The Blue Hens have also dropped games to LaSalle 73-66 and Pittsburgh 85-59.
A 63-60 loss at Lafayette on Wednesday night saddled Delaware with a four-game losing streak heading into today’s game.
The Blue Hens did beat Virginia 59-53 in Charlottesville, Va., on Nov. 13.
That said, Delaware represents a step back from the talented teams Duke has played thus far. That also could represent a mental challenge for the Blue Devils, who will strive to maintain their high level of play.
Krzyzewski sounds like he’s not concerned with how this team will approach games all season.
“I am so proud to be coaching this team,” Krzyzewski said. “This is a really good group.”