Despite having to wait longer than usual, Duke men's basketball finalized its 2020-21 schedule and with that, the Blue Zone brings you its top 5 matchups for the upcoming season:
1. North Carolina
Rivalry games can always be close regardless of how each side’s season is going, and with that said, you can put last year’s record off the shelf when it comes to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s North Carolina team.
With the addition of 5-star centers Day’ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, along with the return of big men Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot from last season, the Tar Heels have a deep, talented and experienced front court. But how freshman guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis can spread the floor will be another question.
It will also take some time to assess how redshirt freshman guard Anthony Harris can recondition himself into playing after suffering his second ACL tear last season. That being said, it’s also important to watch out for freshman forward Puff Johnson, as his high school performances have displayed a series of perimeter shooting talents similar to his brother, the former Tar Heel forward Cameron Johnson.
This year’s North Carolina team will start with as many unanswered questions as this year’s Duke team but when the two teams meet, it will be as exciting as ever.
Duke and Virginia have had a 2-2 record from the last four games played in the past three seasons, and every game seemingly comes down to the wire. With the addition of Sam Hauser, who shot over 40 percent from three-point range in each of his past three seasons at Marquette, this year’s Cavalier squad can spread the floor further and provide enough offensive power to parallel its lockdown defense from last season.
Despite the departure of forward Mamadi Diakite, Virginia returned three starters from last season, and senior forward Jay Huff and junior guard Kihei Clark will both help propel the ACC preseason favorites to another conference title.
With seasoned veterans Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn withdrawing from the NBA draft, this year’s Illinois team is a national championship contender and is ranked above Duke in the preseason polls.
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Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood welcomes back one of the best returning duos in the nation, and with the help of Dosunmu and Coackburn, the Fighting Illini have a good chance to head back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
Not only will Illinois have the advantage of being more experienced, but Dosunmu’s cutting offense and Cockburn’s tough rim protection will certainly bring a test to Duke’s relatively young backcourt in the early season.
4. Michigan State
Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston are no longer around, but the return of sophomore guard Rocket Watts and junior forward Aaron Henry could somewhat parallel the return of Mattew Hurt and Wendell Moore Jr. from Duke’s side.
Both of them started as rotation players during their freshman season and moved to starting positions as time progressed. Despite their early struggles with inefficiency, the Spartans are good enough overall to be ranked No. 13 heading into the season and will once again challenge for the Big Ten title.
Nevertheless, this one is going to be an interesting matchup, as Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo currently has a 2-12 record against Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the outcome of this game will surely build onto the narratives between these two coaches.
5. Florida State
Florida State has usually been an overlooked contestant in the ACC, but in reality, the last few matchups between Duke and Florida State have all ended as close games. Despite not having Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest, this year’s roster still makes a very strong team as it features great depth along with freshman guard Scottie Barnes who was just tabbed the Preseason ACC Freshman of the Year.
Senior guard MJ Walker also has potential to break out this season, as he has put up notable improvements in each of his years at Florida State. One of Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton’s best strategies is his deep rotation system, which, despite not bringing out the shiniest statlines for the players, helps the team preserve its energy and momentum as time drains in games.
But Duke has an unusually deep roster this year, so theoretically the Blue Devils could play with the same strategy and make for an interesting game to watch.