The seventh-ranked Blue Devils stare down their first real road battle of the season Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark., against the talented but hurting Razorbacks. The Chronicle’s beat writers are here to predict how Duke will fare in its first installment of the ACC/SEC Challenge, and whether it can emerge with a win at a hostile Bud Walton Arena:
Andrew Long: Duke 75-70
With one marquee win and one quality loss under its belt, Duke heads to Fayetteville with a point to prove — is it a team that beats talented ones, or falls just short? Of course, this early in the season hardly provides a holistically accurate picture of what the Blue Devils, or Razorbacks, for that matter, will look like come March. But with two explosive offenses facing off in a harsh SEC environment in the first installment of a perennial clash between powerhouse conferences? This one has all the markings of a great game.
So who will come out on top? For Duke’s part, head coach Jon Scheyer still seems to be honing his team’s rough edges that produced its loss to Arizona and closer-than-he-would-like win against Southern Indiana last week. On the Razorbacks’ part, head coach Eric Musselman has led his squad to just one win in his last four games, most recently a loss to North Carolina in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving. The Blue Devils are in better form on paper but there’s a reason basketball is played on wood instead, and its first real road test of the season will be difficult and hostile. In spite of this, I like Duke to emerge with an imperfect but impressive win against a talented opponent behind its guard trio of Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor and Jared McCain before opening ACC play this weekend.
Rachael Kaplan: Arkansas 77-72
Duke’s first road test will be a tough one — it will get a taste of its own medicine. Bud Walton Arena will be a hotbed of anti-Blue Devil chants and sentiment, something that Scheyer’s returners have experience with but is uncharted territory for the rookies. Arkansas is looking to rebound, and on its home court, it will be able to do just that. With Tramon Mark’s status uncertain, the team is bound to rally in his support if he doesn’t play and around him if he does. It is a relatively short Razorback squad, so sophomore center Kyle Filipowski should be able to find success in the paint, but against a squad with a little more on its mind than just basketball, Duke’s effort may not be enough.
Mackenzie Sheehy: Duke 78-72
Arkansas provides Duke its first road test of the season, and it is far from an easy one. In a hostile environment and with a relatively young team that has yet to be truly battle-tested, the Blue Devils may very well get off to a slow start and struggle in the opening minutes. However, the Razorbacks have been struggling as of late, narrowly escaping Stanford and dropping contests to North Carolina and Memphis. With the team’s recent exit from the AP poll and Mark potentially out for Wednesday’s matchup, Duke has the perfect opportunity to grab a statement win against a quality opponent. That said, the heated battle will require the Blue Devils to shoot well and spread the points across the floor to gain the edge to victory.
Ranjan Jindal: Duke 80-71
Arkansas has had a shaky start to the season, and while there is undeniably a lot of talent on the roster, the team’s defense has been suspect. If Mark can’t play, it will be extremely difficult for the Razorbacks to find enough scoring to match the Blue Devils. Mark is a tough matchup who can score from any spot on the floor, as he had an impressive 34 points against North Carolina. This environment is undeniably difficult, and this will be Duke’s first true road game this season, but I think the experience of the Blue Devils in big-game environments will be helpful. Duke needs to shoot the ball better, particularly from deep, but I think it has the talent to win on the road.
Dom Fenoglio: Duke 73-66
While the Blue Devils struggled in their recent win against Southern Indiana, and have had a difficult time starting games strong all season, the Razorbacks have had an even tougher go of things. Arkansas does not look like the team Duke took down in the Elite Eight just two years ago, even with its preseason-No. 14 ranking. The injury to Mark, by far the brightest spot on the Razorbacks’ roster thus far, only makes matters worse. With all of that being said, Musselman will surely fire his team up for a home game against the Blue Devils. However, Scheyer has plenty of motivation to use himself after the team’s sluggish win against the Screaming Eagles. I think the Arkansas team that comes out Wednesday will be a formidable foe, but Duke will remain in control throughout the game and win its first game of the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.
Sophie Levenson: Duke 82-69
If its Nov. 17 loss to UNC Greensboro says anything, home-court advantage doesn’t do much for Arkansas. So even though the Blue Devils aren’t historically in their best form outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium, location should do little to stop their victory against the Razorbacks. Sure, Arkansas pulled out an overtime win against Purdue in an exhibition back in October, but that might be its only accomplishment to date. The Razorbacks’ last four games have been sloppy, highlighted by a win against unranked Stanford that they only managed to pull out after two periods of overtime. Duke, on the other hand, is climbing in the AP poll and, despite rocky execution against Southern Indiana, has been sitting pretty since its loss to Arizona with a star-studded team that has yet to truly disappoint. I don’t foresee Wednesday night being too much of a challenge for the Blue Devils.
Jonathan Levitan: Duke 76-67
Feast Week is so often a telling time in college basketball, and this year’s slate was no different. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, their underwhelming 1-2 record out in the Bahamas — salvaged mainly by a razor-thin overtime win against Stanford — suggests that Musselman’s squad has a ways to go.
The Blue Devils present Arkansas, likely down its top scorer in Mark, with its best defensive opponent yet. While talented and well-coached, the Razorbacks are a tier or two below battle-tested Duke for the time being; expect the home side to end up below the 70-point mark for the first time this season in what should be a fun rematch between former NCAA tournament rivals.
Micah Hurewitz: Duke 80-73
Arkansas has lost three of its last four games and did not play particularly well in another of its home games it should have won handily. Duke is coming off a very rocky 18-point win against Southern Indiana. Neither team, let’s say, has had the fantastic start to the season it had wanted. The Blue Devils could easily run into some trouble against the Hogs, especially with familiar guard El Ellis and Mark and their big-play potential plus a remarkable athlete in Trevon Brazile. The above-the-rim matchup in the frontcourt will also need another big game from freshman forward Sean Stewart and a solid showing from Filipowski, while the Blue Devils will need to capitalize from beyond the arc and with the McCain-Proctor-Roach-Caleb Foster backcourt. The Razorbacks have some work to do to become a team that can make a run later in the season, and that is why the 5-1 Blue Devils will put Arkansas to rest — while wearing Duke’s “funeral” black threads.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.