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Taking a look at Duke men's basketball's ACC slate

Graduate transfer Theo John has been a boon off the bench at center and has heavily contributed to the Blue Devils' interior dominance this season.
Graduate transfer Theo John has been a boon off the bench at center and has heavily contributed to the Blue Devils' interior dominance this season.

Duke men's basketball's nonconference schedule is finished, and it plays its first ACC game of the season on Wednesday, facing off against Virginia Tech Wednesday night at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With that in mind, the Blue Zone takes a look at how the Blue Devils finished their nonconference slate and three key matchups of their ACC season:

Well, here we are. Duke has yet again escaped it’s nonconference slate relatively unscathed, though there may be a Buckeye or two out there who would disagree.

The Blue Devils concluded head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last fall campaign with a record of 10-1, falling only to a tough Ohio State squad immediately after waltzing out of Las Vegas with a win against a highly touted Gonzaga. And despite having to reschedule their final contest of the fall not once, but twice, Duke found a way to dismantle Elon by a 31-point margin to finish up on a three-game win streak. Comment on the strength of schedule all you want, but after the trap of their trip up to Columbus, Ohio, the Blue Devils have performed admirably.

After decidedly lackluster 3-point shooting marks each of the last few seasons, Duke appears to be righting the ship in that department. Through 11 games, the Blue Devils have hit a 37% mark from beyond the arc, led by freshmen A.J. Griffin and Trevor Keels, veteran Joey Baker and a surging Wendell Moore Jr. 

Speaking of Moore, the once timid role player is now a star. He leads a talented Duke roster in points per game with 16.9, and has tallied just over a quarter of the team’s total assists. Add that to the fact that he’s averaging only 0.2 rebounds per game less than 7-footer Mark Williams, and you have a leader that can make a dent in the nation’s best defenses come March.

Throw in the clear lottery pick of Paolo Banchero, Keels' work ethic, Griffin's return from injury and a flat out paint monster in Williams, and suddenly you have yourself a squad with championship aspirations. However, there's a long schedule of ACC basketball between now and then, so let’s take a look at the opponents that could give them some trouble along the way. 

Virginia Tech

This is Duke’s most clear cut competition for the top spot in the conference. What the lack of a ranking next to their name most certainly belies is this team’s threat come 2022. Ranked 22nd according to KenPom.com, this is a Hokies squad that is the definition of up and down. Three days ago, they dismantled a solid St. Bonaventure team by almost 40 but lost handily to a lesser Wake Forest team by a good margin just three games prior.

This team shows promise, shooting the daylights out of the basket from beyond the arc, ranking ninth in the nation with a 40% 3-point percentage, but it has no clear star. Three players find themselves averaging double figures—Keve Aluma, Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor—but it only really runs a seven-man rotation.

Come Wednesday, Duke is going to have to figure out what is making this team tick if it doesn't wish to start 0-1 in conference play.

North Carolina

Well, this one seems easy, even if the Tar Heels are seeming only a shadow of the team they usually are in Hubert Davis’s first year at the helm. But if there is one thing the Blue Devil faithful know about the Tobacco Road Rivalry, it’s this: it simply doesn’t matter how good either team is.

The game is still going to be close.

We don’t know a whole lot about this North Carolina team’s prowess against squads that match up well with it, as its three losses are against highly ranked programs, and its eight wins aren’t against contenders. Still, two Tar Heels were named preseason All-Americans, Armando Bacot and Caleb Love, and I’m sure the Blue Devils will be keeping a close eye on the Tar Heels before they find themselves opposite each other in February.

Florida State

Rounding out the top three games that the Blue Devils will surely be marking on their calendar is the Seminoles of Florida State. Off to a tough start so far, this team has proven that they can play up to their competition, but that they also occasionally play down to lesser opponents, only narrowly beating Boston University in overtime and falling to Syracuse by just three points.

This team has three scorers in double figures, and sophomore Caleb Mills is always a threat to change the game. His 2.2 steals per game supplement an acute scoring touch—he's averaging 12.2 points and shooting 42.7% from the field—and will be what Duke needs to look out for in their matchup.

Full ACC Schedule

Dec. 22 vs. Virginia Tech

Dec. 29 at Clemson

Jan. 1 at Notre Dame

Jan. 4 vs. Georgia Tech

Jan. 8 vs. Miami

Jan. 12 at Wake Forest

Jan. 15 vs. N.C. State

Jan. 18 at Florida State

Jan. 22 vs. Syracuse

Jan. 25 vs. Clemson

Jan. 29 at Louisville

Feb. 5 at North Carolina

Feb. 7 vs. Virginia

Feb. 12 at Boston College

Feb. 15 vs. Wake Forest

Feb. 19 vs. Florida State

Feb. 23 at Virginia

Feb. 26 at Syracuse

March 1 at Pittsburgh

March 5 vs. North Carolina

Check out the links above for previews of every team Duke faces this season. 

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