It is tough to be the most celebrated program in college basketball.
That could be the lesson of Duke"s first big road trip of the season, as it takes on Miami Wednesday and Florida State Saturday.
When the Blue Devils first scanned down their schedule, this week seemed of little consequence to a top-10 team. But Miami"s and Florida State"s respective games against Duke are arguably the biggest games of the two Florida schools" seasons. What looks to be the opportune time for Duke to rest up and go on autopilot coincides with the moment Miami and Florida State should be at peak performance levels.
This type of situation has been a problem for Duke in the past. When the Blue Devils were defending their national title in 2001-02, their first loss came at the hands of the Seminoles. In 2003, Duke once again lost in Tallahassee. The next year, Duke slogged through a tight contest, and after some heroics by Chris Duhon, came out victorious in a rare sellout for Florida State.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the chances for an upset are even more pronounced this week as they welcome the newest Florida school to the conference at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Hurricanes come into the game having won 12 of their last 13, including their last three ACC contests. After losing 11 of its final 12 games last season and being picked dead last in the ACC"s preseason poll, Miami has been transformed by first-year head coach Frank Haith into a mid-level ACC squad.
The former Big East member is one of the few schools in the nation whose guards can legitimately compete with the likes of Daniel Ewing, J.J. Redick, Sean Dockery and DeMarcus Nelson. Miami"s three guard lineup of Robert Hite (19.0 ppg), Guillermo Diaz (17.6 ppg) and Anthony Harris (12.4 ppg) have been difficult for Hurricane opponents to contend with this season, and the quick threesome combines for a higher percentage of its teams points than any other trio in the ACC.
With the Convocation Center in Coral Gables, Fla., sold out, Duke could easily lose its first game of the season Wednesday. If the Blue Devils are to prevail, Shelden Williams must not get in foul trouble.
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Miami may be able to neutralize the Duke backcourt, but it has no answer for a dominant inside player like Williams. In addition, a boost from Shavlik Randolph"s return to the post would quickly stymie Miami"s plans to make a splash on the national scene.
To hopefully avoid another lackluster performance on the Panhandle, head coach Mike Krzyzewski"s squad will be practicing in Miami for a few extra days rather than immediately heading north. While the Seminoles should be thoroughly energized to try to knock off No. 4 Duke again, a Florida State victory Saturday would require a Blue Devil collapse rather than merely a let-down.
The Seminoles only have one player who averages in double figures and have been unable to find a way to win close matchups.
Duke"s talent alone should carry it through Saturday"s game, but then again, it should have in 2002 and 2003, as well.