Black magic? The case of the Blue Devils' cursed uniforms

Duke's loss to Notre Dame Saturday was the latest defeat the Blue Devils have suffered wearing their black alternate jerseys, which have often accompanied upset defeats in the past 16 seasons.
Duke's loss to Notre Dame Saturday was the latest defeat the Blue Devils have suffered wearing their black alternate jerseys, which have often accompanied upset defeats in the past 16 seasons.

After the men's basketball game between Duke and Arizona on Nov. 29th, I went straight to twitter.

"Duke's black jerseys: look great, can't win in them."

The Blue Devils were back in black to kick off 2014 on the road. After the team dropped its ACC opener to a rebuilding Notre Dame squad, dropping Duke out of the top 10 in the AP Poll for the first time since 2007, I
took to the Twittersphere again—this time with a harsher tone.

"A note to Duke Basketball: Stop. Wearing. Black. Jerseys."

The Blue Devils started wearing black jerseys right around the time I first started becoming a fan. On Nov. 21, 1996, in a 89-to-60 victory over unranked Saint Joseph's, the Blue Devils donned the infamous jerseys for the first time. Hopes were high at this point. Let's be honest, those jerseys look good. Personally, if I'm picking based on looks alone, hands down going with the black jerseys. Unfortunately, it's not based on looks alone.

You have to win games as well.

12/1/09--MADISON, Wisconsin-Duke vs. Wisconsin Men's Basketball: The Wisconsin Badgers crushed the Duke Blue Devils 73-69 Wednesday night at the Kohl Center. Photo by Chase Olivieri
Which is why I have been leading a personal vendetta against the black jerseys for years now. It seems like every time the Dukies put those god forsaken, yet exquisitely beautiful, black jerseys on, they lose games. Well I looked into the statistics and, while it is not as bad as many think, there is clear evidence that Duke has played worse in the black jerseys.

Let's start with the overall wins and losses. Since the Blue Devils first donned the black jerseys, the team is 508-98, winning roughly 83 percent of their games. Duke played in black jerseys in 68 of those games, winning about 60 percent of the time. Right off of the bat we see that wearing black jerseys has been significantly less successful. However, the first important distinction to make with the black jerseys is that they're only worn on the road or in games played at neutral sites, with the exception of the very first game played 18 years ago.

When playing away from home, Duke is 180-60, winning roughly 75 percent of their games. When they play in any jersey but the black, their winning percentage improves to 81 percent. Even when the Blue Devils play in games on the road or at neutral sites, they win more often in the blue and white.

Photos from Duke's road loss (79-72) to the University of Maryland 3/3/10.
But how about against ranked opponents? Duke has played 144 ranked opponents during the past 18 seasons, posting an overall record of 96-48, winning 66.7 percent of those matchups. Overall, the record is solid, but when the Blue Devils wear black, their winning percentage against ranked opponents drops nearly 17 points, posting a record of 11-11, wining 50 percent of the time.

To be fair, I'll point out, again, that the black jerseys are only worn on the road or in neutral site games, so every home win against a ranked team in the past 18 years has come in blue and white. However, winning nearly 17 percent fewer games against ranked teams in one jersey warrants a wardrobe change.

I know what you're thinking: if Duke plays ranked opponents, of course the team's record will dip. But what about unranked teams? This may be the strongest indicator of all that the Blue Devils should stop wearing the black jerseys. Since the start of the 1996 season, Duke has lost 36 times to unranked teams. In 16 of those 36 losses, the Blue Devils have donned the black jerseys—44 percent of Duke's losses to unranked teams have come from a jersey that is worn in only 13 percent of the team's games. The black jerseys are a beacon of hope to underdog opponents, essentially inviting upset opportunities!

I've been fortunate enough to take a statistics class at Duke, so I understand that correlation does not imply causation. Are these numbers random? Maybe. Is the color jersey really impacting the games that Duke plays? Who knows. But would you rather go into a game with good karma? Absolutely. The stats don't lie—the Blue Devils have fared better when they play in blue and white. The black jerseys look good, they really do. But the perfect jersey needs to be more than just looks. It's time to break up with the black jerseys.


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