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A Devilish Road Ahead

Duke has a couple of challenging road stretches coming up

 DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 25: Clemson Tigers forward Hunter Tyson (5) and Duke Blue Devils forward Bates Jones (34) fight for the rebound during the college basketball game between the Clemson Tigers and the Duke Blue Devils on January 25, 2022, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.
Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The meeting with Clemson was fiercely contested, the sort of defensive struggle that lends itself to bellicose words like “battle” and “war”.

To their credit, neither coach went that rhetorical route.

“Both teams played their hearts out,” said Mike Krzyzewski. “I’ll tell you what, basketball has gotten so physical—that was a really physical basketball game, both ways.”

Unspoken was the price each team will pay in bruises, strains and general wear and tear as we approach the end of the season.

Early in Krzyzewski’s Duke tenure opposing coaches groused about the physical nature of defense practiced by his Blue Devils. A change in conference officiating during the 1980s led to more tolerance of such play in the supposedly finesse-oriented ACC.

The shift not only benefited Duke but facilitated success by its league rivals in the rugged arena of NCAA competition.

The college game, and the ACC, have changed much since then, although to what degree can be debated. Lately it’s been K who’s commenting – not griping – about defenses exerting control at odds with recent let’s-loosen-up, fans-like-more-scoring rules changes.

Which becomes a matter of concern for Duke as it embarks on a pair of three-game road trips between Jan. 29 and March 1, with a two-gamer sandwiched in between.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell is known for his squads’ defensive prowess, and well-acquainted with the toll such action takes on players’ bodies. “PJ (Hall) and Hunter Tyson for us need rest,” he said of his impressive but unimposing big men. “Both guys are playing through some physical ailments you can get this time of year.”

Spectators often overlook this painful fact of athletic life: late in a season physical insults accumulate, bodies and minds are stressed, and players, especially young ones, are hard-pressed to maintain their acumen in the face of unaccustomed limitations.

Those realities will shape the Devils’ destiny as they become a traveling road show. (By the way, unnamed Carolina beat writer: when referring to a team by its collective nickname, that’s a “they” not an “it”.)

Only five other ACC squads endure a ’22 trifecta equivalent to Duke’s on hostile ACC courts. And only Duke does it twice, having squeezed in COVID-delayed trips to Notre Dame (1/31) and Clemson (2/10 as part of a two-game road swing).

For any program, especially one so adept at shaping schedules to its benefit, the prospect of these road runs surely is sobering. So far, no ACC team has gone through one such stretch with an unblemished record in ‘22, let alone done it twice.

3-Game Stretches of In-League Road Trips By ACC Teams
School Dates of Trip Threesome Faced In 2022
Duke Jan. 29-Feb. 5 UL, Notre Dame, UNC
Duke Feb. 23-March 1 Virginia, Syracuse, Pitt
FSU Feb. 19-Feb. 26 Duke, BC, Virginia
UL Feb. 21-March 1 UNC, Wake, Virginia Tech
N. Dame Jan. 15-Jan. 22 Virginia Tech (L), Howard (W), UL (W)
UVa Jan. 1-Jan. 8 Syracuse(W), Clemson (W), UNC (L)
Va Tech Jan. 19-Jan.24 NC State (W), BC (L), UNC (L)