There is cause for much optimism as Mike Krzyzewski welcomes another elite recruiting class; however, there are a handful of ACC teams that may test the mettle of such a young Duke basketball squad.
It is an undeniable truth that Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski has had inimitable success in the ACC. Coach K has cut down the nets at the conclusion of 15 conference tournaments. He has led 12 different teams to regular-season championships (or shares thereof). Over the last decade, the Blue Devils are 132-46 in conference play, an average of 13.2 such wins per season.
ALSO READ: Six reasons Coach K may never retire
There are reasons for optimism that a Jordan Goldwire-captained Duke basketball team will finish atop the ACC next season. Duke catches Wake Forest home and away and, over the last 10 seasons, has lost just twice in 19 games to the Deacons (including last season’s devastating double-overtime loss in Winston Salem).
The Blue Devils also play Georgia Tech both home and away and are a perfect 11-0 since 2010-11 against the Yellow Jackets. Another home-and-away series against Pittsburgh is also likely to yield a pair of victories as the Blue Devils have dropped just one game in the last eight to the Panthers. Duke also hosts Boston College and has not suffered a defeat to the Eagles in the last eight games in Durham (13-1 overall during the past decade).
However, the Blue Devils have had their share of disappointments in conference play as well. In the last 10 years, Duke has not once finished atop the ACC standings. And the Blue Devils have just two conference tournament titles (2017 and 2019) in that same span. As always, in a deep and talented ACC, there will be a tumultuous path to a conference championship of any kind.
Duke's 2020-21 conference slate includes notable obstacles. Potential pitfalls loom on the hoops horizon against different ACC opponents. So let's look at five of the most worrisome foes...
The Blue Devils have a home-and-away series against Louisville in 2020-21. Over the last decade, Duke has six wins in 10 games against the Cardinals. The Devils’ four losses were by a combined 44 points, including a six-point defeat to an 11th-ranked Cardinals team in Durham last season.
Rising sophomore guards David Johnson and Samuell Williamson will be looking to improve upon their promising freshman campaigns. Louisville also welcomes back a senior big man in Malik Williams, who averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a junior.
In terms of the Cardinals' new additions likely to be in the rotation, four-star forwards D'Andre Davis and JJ Traynor will join two of the nation's top grad transfers in shooting guards Charles Minlend and Carlik Jones.
The 2020-21 Duke basketball team drew just one game against the still-defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers, and that contest will be in Durham. The Blue Devils are just 6-4 in their last 10 games against the Hoos. While Duke has taken the last two of three from the Cavaliers at home, those three games were decided by a total of five points.
Tony Bennett’s vaunted Pack Line defense is always formidable. Next season, Virginia's 12th-year head coach will have a mix of vets and new faces, including some nice offensive weapons. The notable freshmen are forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim and point guard Reece Beekman, No. 34 and No. 63 on the 247Sports 2020 Composite, respectively.
The rookies join senior forward Sam Hauser, a 3-point sniper who sat out last season after transferring from Marquette, in addition to junior guard Kihei Clark and senior big man Jay Huff.
No list of dangerous conference games would be complete without mentioning the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Blue Devils, as they do every season, will play the Heels at least twice. Although the Devils won 15 of 24 games over the last decade, they are just 5-5 against UNC in the last 10. Except for the memorable comeback wins, Duke has not had great success away from home against the Tar Heels recently either, as its last five losses in Chapel Hill are by an average of more than eight points.
The Blue Devils are likely to stumble at least once against their in-state blueblood rivals, who welcome the nation's No. 2 recruiting class. UNC's six-deep bunch of newcomers, led by three five-stars in point guard Caleb Love plus centers Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, somehow bumped Duke's haul to No. 3 last week on the 247Sports 2020 Class Rankings.
Roy Williams also returns two quality big men in senior Garrison Brooks, a top early candidate for ACC Player of the Year, and sophomore Armando Bacot, who averaged 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds as a rookie.
A second in-state rival may prove challenging for the Blue Devils this season. Duke squares off against the North Carolina State Wolfpack just once, and that contest is in Raleigh. The Devils have just two wins in the last six games in PNC Arena. The Pack own 8-, 11-, 12- and 22-point victories in Raleigh since 2010-11.
Next season, after compiling exactly 12 total losses in each of his first three campaigns at NC State, head coach Kevin Keatts should have the necessary pieces to keep the loss column to single digits. The nation's No. 22 recruiting class, led by four-star point guard Cam Hayes, will join a host of ACC veterans, namely redshirt senior guard Devon Daniels, senior guard Braxton Beverly, and redshirt senior forward DJ Funderburk.
Considering that Keatts and his guys handed Duke its most lopsided loss of the 2019-20 season, the Blue Devils would be wise not to overlook the Wolfpack next season. Finally, here's another place that hasn't always been kind to Duke basketball teams in recent years...
In addition to six games combined against Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, and N.C. State, there remains one daunting foe to the northwest of Durham in Blacksburg, Va. At some point, this young but uber-talented group of Blue Devils will have to travel to Cassell Coliseum.
The Duke basketball program has just one win in the last four games against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The worst of the three losses was an 89-75 upset of an unranked Tech squad over a fifth-ranked Blue Devils team in December 2016.
As for Virginia Tech's 2020-21 outlook, it will be the second season under head coach Mike Young. The Hokies look to have a balanced roster, likely to be led by two guards: sophomore Tyrece Radford, who started 29 games as a freshman and averaged 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 60.4 percent from the field, and senior Wabissa Bede, who started every game at the point last season and averaged 5.5 assists to only 1.7 turnovers.
If Mike Krzyzewski and his young Duke basketball squad can successfully navigate these troubled conference waters, there is no reason to believe they couldn't capture their first outright regular-season crown since 2005-06. Should history repeat itself too often, however, the Blue Devils may fall victim to several conference opponents next season.
Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more news and views regarding all things Duke basketball.