Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 8.33.56 PM
Bagley and Allen lead a talented Duke squad that is a favorite to win the ACC.

Take of the week: The ACC title is Duke's to lose

Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on Duke basketball—whether that take may be hot, cold or lukewarm. This week's take is in from men's basketball beat writer Ben Leonard: 

The take: The ACC regular season crown is Duke's to lose

Duke hasn't won the regular season ACC title since 2010. 

This is the year where they're poised to change that. 

In a weaker conference and with a relatively easy schedule, the regular season championship is the Blue Devils' to lose—even after starting conference play with a loss to Boston College. No. 4 Duke has only two really tough road tests left—at at Miami Jan. 15 and at North Carolina Feb. 8. 

The Blue Devils get to take on No. 13 Virginia, No. 24 Florida State and a tough Notre Dame team all in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. And if they can get their defense together, no one will be stopping them. 

Duke's top competitors in the conference—North Carolina, Miami and Virginia—don't hold a candle to it in terms of sheer talent at every position. North Carolina has been far too reliant on Luke Maye and Joel Berry II and doesn't have the size inside to compete with the Blue Devils. 

Virginia has the best defense and the slowest tempo in the country, but Duke has historically done well against it—the Blue Devils haven't lost to the Cavaliers since 2014. Certainly Evansville is nowhere near on the same plane talent-wise as Virginia, Duke's up-tempo offense blew past the Purple Aces' plodding motion offense. This has been a trend in recent years—it can take advantage of teams that try to control the pace with its speed. 

The team that matches up best with the Blue Devils, Miami, could prove to be their only toughest potential stumbling block in the way of a regular season title. The Hurricanes have a strong post player in 6-foot-11 forward DeWan Huell that can match up against Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. in the paint, which could present problems. 

But Miami really hasn't been tested yet, outside of a road trip in which they downed Minnesota, which ranks No. 41 in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings, and it won't be until it takes on Duke Jan. 15. And it just lost to New Mexico State

If the Blue Devils can come away from Miami with a win, they'll be in the driver's seat in the ACC. If not, they'll likely have just one more loss to play with, but even so, they seem very well prepared to do so. The defense, which has been the team's Achilles' heel thus far, showed signs of improvement against Evansville. 

A very young team will have four more tough games that it should win before taking on Miami to bring together its defense—a tall task, but one they're up to. They are one of the most cohesive Duke teams in recent memory—and one that is focusing on this year, not where it will be playing next year. 

And the Blue Devils are battle-tested—they had to fight back to down two very good teams en route to the PK80 Invitational and downed No. 3 Michigan State in a dogfight in Chicago. Duke is much more grizzled than most at this stage. 

With a relatively easy path to the ACC championship, a cohesive team, and most of its top competitors not matching up well with them, the only thing standing in the way of the Blue Devils and a regular season title is themselves. 

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Chronicle.