Next up for Duke is Wake Forest, and while Duke will be favored, this is a potential trap game.
First, Wake is a much improved team from last year. Second, the school of hard knocks is due to kick in: having lost a couple, Wake is ready for change. And third, emotionally and physically, it's going to be really hard for Duke to hit the same level it hit against Syracuse.
All of this gives Wake an opening, and unlike last year, the Deacs are capable of taking it.
Wake's star player this year has been Codi Miller-McIntyre, who is vastly improved from the version we saw last year. Miller-McIntyre is averaging 14.4 ppg and 3.8 rpg.
Devin Thomas has evolved into a quality big man, who is averaging 11.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg.
Senior Travis McKie, a rare experienced Deac, is averaging 11.3 ppg and is enjoying some modest team success for the first time in his career.
Tyler Cavanaugh has become another competent presence, and is hitting 8.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg.
Madison Jones is the other starting guard, along with Miller-McIntyre, and has been quiet but effective.
Grad student transfer Coron Williams is the primary three point shooter.
Arnaud-William Adala Moto is a bruiser of a reserve. He's listed at 6-6 and 225, but he looks and plays taller.
Aaron Roundtree and Andre Washington are both frontcourt players and both are getting between 8-10 minutes a night.
Although Wake is significantly improved over last season, there is one immediate concern for the Deacs, and that's the health of Miller-McIntyre, who hurt his ankle in the Georgia Tech game. As of Monday, he was still limping and unable to go, but he says he'll be ready for Duke.
Cavanaugh says he'll be ready too and that Wake can beat Duke:
“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t believe [we could win]. Of course I believe that.
“Obviously they’re a great team at home. It’s going to be a hell of a challenge. But we’ve got to go in there and believe that we can do it. We’ve got to just hang around as long as we can and then make our push.
“We shouldn’t get on the bus if we didn’t believe we could go down there and beat these guys.”
He's right on both counts: Wake can certainly win and if you don't think you can win, why bother?
It won't be easy though, particularly given Duke's considerable improvement since the Clemson game. Almost everyone is better. We're not sure we can ever remember saying that about any team, but it's true, and it's particularly true for Amile Jefferson, who has made himself the equal of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
We don't mean he's scoring 15-20 every night, although he probably could. We mean in terms of his value to the team.
Here's a measure of his advance. Remember when Josh Hairston was starting? Hairston has a lot of heart and he's started at different times during his career. He's a valuable member of this team and he's reliable.
Now, though, it's unimaginable that he would start over Jefferson. That's how much Jefferson has changed this team.
Duke's concerns have also changed. For part of the year, defense was, by any reasonable standard, atrocious. Now?
The Syracuse game, despite losing, was something of a triumph and it confirmed Duke's potential, something the voters took note of. in a rare move, Duke moved from #17 in the polls to #11.
With Wake in town, Duke's challenge is to maintain the level of intensity and excellence, to remember the heart and passion shown in the Carrier Dome while forgetting the outcome. Syracuse had the exact same problem on Monday and only a career game from Trevor Cooney (33 points) saved the Orange.
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It won't be easy to do, but it's easier than beating a team when you're not defending.