Relax: Recent Duke basketball results mirror three title seasons

Duke basketball (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Duke basketball’s sudden January slump is, once again, not at all worth losing sleep.

On this date 10 years ago, a Duke basketball team — one that lacked future lottery picks and played in a down year for the NCAA — suffered a 14-point disappointment on the road to an unranked N.C. State squad.

As a result, those Blue Devils dropped to 15-3 overall, including two January ACC losses, and then to No. 8 in the following AP Poll. Exactly 75 days later, they delivered the program its fourth national championship.

Today, following Saturday’s 79-73 home loss to now-No. 6 Louisville after Tuesday’s 79-72 road loss to Clemson, the Blue Devils — in a season with little disparity between the top 100 or so teams and without definite future lottery picks in Durham — now rank No. 8 with a 15-3 overall record, including a 5-2 conference mark.

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So one could justifiably refer to the 2019-20 Blue Devils, for the time being, as copycats of 2009-10 — or of another title campaign…

On this date five years ago, Duke’s eventual national champs sat 16-2 overall and No. 5 in the AP, exactly one week after a second consecutive ACC loss. Like this season, the start of the two-game skid in 2015 came on the road with the end coming at home. Unlike this season, both those losses came against unranked opponents (N.C. State then Miami).

Finally, on this date 29 years ago, Duke’s eventual first national champs were 15-3 overall and No. 12 in the AP.

Granted, every team sees a unique slate of games. Yet Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski has, for the most part, kept his scheduling consistent across his 40 years while the ACC has consistently been one of the top conferences.

Keeping in mind that the average level of competition in the first half of a season is slightly less than that from the second half, let’s nevertheless now look at the final average scoring margins for the Blue Devils in each of the aforementioned title seasons and then the same stats to date for the 2019-20 Blue Devils:

  • 1990-91 Blue Devils: 87.7 to 73.4 (14.3 scoring margin)
  • 2009-10 Blue Devils: 77.0 to 61.0 (16.0 scoring margin)
  • 2014-15 Blue Devils: 79.3 to 64.2 (15.1 scoring margin)
  • 2019-20 Blue Devils: 82.6 to 64.2 (18.4 scoring margin)

Now, while minimal variation exists between the four — and even one exact match, the scoring defenses of the 2014-15 and 2019-20 teams — it’s certainly true the group in town at the moment has plenty of work to do, particularly in the swagger department, before thinking about climbing any ladders in April.

Also true, though, is the moral of this story: the ultimate goal is by no means out of reach for Duke just because of a thus-far brief losing streak.

There are also more of the program’s past results to consider…

First, around this same date 31 years ago, the 1988-89 Blue Devils lost three straight in the ACC, and four out of five, before eventually reaching the final four. On the flip side, only four teams under Krzyzewski have remained undefeated by Jan. 20, and while two of those four now account for the program’s second and third titles (1991-92 and 2000-01), the other two (2004-05 and 2005-06) each flamed out in the sweet sixteen.

So although Duke basketball fans nowadays rarely see losing streaks — or the Blue Devils as low as No. 8 in the AP Poll, as Monday marks only the fourth such week across the past three seasons — that fact suggests how lucky such fans are to rarely have any good reason to lose hope in a season until a loss finally ends it.

This season’s 10-deep, when fully healthy, Duke basketball rotation — Tre Jones, Jordan Goldwire, Cassius Stanley, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Joey Baker, Jack White, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, and Vernon Carey Jr. each average at least 13.5 minutes and 3.5 points — should also keep the sweetest of dreams alive until at least late-March.

And yes, even an unlikely loss next time out — 9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN) at home against Miami — wouldn’t change that.


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