With Duke women's basketball ranked once again in Monday's AP Poll, the Blue Zone is here with our thoughts on the latest rankings:
Duke shows potential in loss to South Carolina
Duke’s season started out strong, with decisive wins against Penn and then-No. 9 Iowa in early December putting the Blue Devils back in the AP Poll for the first time since the 2018-19 preseason. And while a nine-point loss Wednesday to No. 1 South Carolina may seem disheartening, it only furthers the argument to keep the Blue Devils ranked; the Gamecocks beat then-No. 5 N.C. State by nine earlier in the season and then-No. 2 Connecticut by 16. The Blue Devils—who drop one spot to No. 16 in this week's rankings—proved Wednesday that they can remain competitive and even outshine high-caliber teams, and the experience they gained playing a team like the Gamecocks will make them even stronger going forward into ACC play.
Look out for the Tar Heels
North Carolina had fans on the edge of their seats Sunday with a fourth-quarter comeback against ACC opponent Boston College. The match marked the first time all season the Tar Heels—now 10-0, the team’s best start since the 2010-11 season—have trailed at halftime all season, and the 30 minutes they trailed during the game exceeded their total time spent trailing during their last nine games combined. The victory also marked their fourth true road win of the season; the Tar Heels won three throughout the entire 2020-21 season.
North Carolina's No. 25 spot a week ago marked its first time in the AP Poll since the 2015-16 preseason. This week, the Tar Heels remain idle, still in that final spot of the rankings.
But despite North Carolina's recent success, the rivalry matchup Jan. 27 still looks promising for Duke. North Carolina's weaker strength of schedule compared to Duke might have it less prepared going into the matchup, and shooting 16-of-45 from the floor during the first three quarters against Boston College may be a weakness that Duke can exploit during the match. The Tar Heels continue ACC play Dec. 30 against Syracuse, and while they have been dominant against weaker teams, it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to fare against stronger conference opponents leading into January.
Leading up to N.C. State
The Blue Devils should breeze past Charleston Southern Tuesday, but their first few ACC games may not be such a walk in the park. Duke’s first conference matchup is against Virginia Tech, a solid squad, but a recent defeat to then-No. 11 Tennessee and allowing high-scoring numbers from a Florida State team that typically struggles at the rim may have the Hokies down in confidence. The Blue Devils then take on No. 20 Notre Dame—arguably the second-best team in the ACC behind N.C. State—before two games against No. 17 Georgia Tech and Syracuse, two matchup-dependent teams who shouldn’t give Duke too much trouble.
Duke has proven it can hang with strong teams like South Carolina, so the looming Jan. 16 matchup against No. 5 N.C. State shouldn't be too daunting for the Blue Devils. But the squad will need to come out strong early on in ACC play to have the momentum and preparation to take on the Wolfpack and to boost its ranking to a top spot.
1. South Carolina
5. N.C. State
T-13. Iowa State
17. Georgia Tech
18. South Florida
20. Notre Dame
23. Texas A&M
24. Ohio State
25. North Carolina
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.