What if I told you that COVID rescheduled games would leave Duke with six games in 15 days? What if I told you that five of those would be on the road, and that sandwiched in the middle would be Coach K’s final trip to Chapel Hill? What if I told you that Duke would win five of those six games, including a beatdown of the Tar Heels?
Three weeks ago, I would posit most Duke fans would take that performance in a heartbeat.
Of course the Blue Devils’ recent stretch won’t merit a 30 for 30 documentary, especially in a historically down year for the ACC. Plus, losing at home to a very mediocre Virginia team left an understandably bitter taste in many fans mouths. But now that this stretch is behind us, it’s time to acknowledge that Duke accomplished something unique in emerging from this stretch 5-1.
With the benefit of hindsight Duke fans should appreciate the historic nature of this streak. Duke won three consecutive road ACC games, against Louisville, Notre Dame, and North Carolina, for just the second time under Coach K. The victory against North Carolina was the second largest in Coach K’s history in Chapel Hill. As DBR’s own Barry Jacobs analyzed earlier this year, Duke had just a .522 winning percentage on the road in ACC play from 2017-2021, but thanks in large part to this stretch the Blue Devils are now 6-1 in such games in this season.
Yes, the ACC is historically average this year, but Duke’s victories haven’t come at the expense of cupcakes (perhaps excluding yesterday’s win against Boston College). Duke played a motivated Louisville team to start this stretch in the first game following Chris Mack’s departure. Notre Dame is tied with the Blue Devils atop the ACC, yet Duke beat them convincingly in South Bend. North Carolina is North Carolina, and Clemson was a legitimate bubble team before injuries derailed their season.
Lesser Duke teams could, and have, lost multiple of those road contests. Less physical Duke teams might’ve been “knocked back” in a blowout road loss to a more veteran team. Less deep Duke teams might’ve succumbed to fatigue and lost to an inferior foe.
Yet this Duke team played six games in 15 days, including five on the road, and went 5-1.
Again, fans have every right to be frustrated by the inexcusable loss to Virginia at home. That loss could very well cost the Blue Devils the chance for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But now that Duke is through this gauntlet ask yourself: if someone had offered you a 5-1 record, including a victory over UNC, before this stretch began, would you have taken it? I doubt many objective fans would turn down such a deal.
That’s exactly what Duke did, and thanks to the team’s resilience they enter the final six games of the regular season in solid position to secure at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps more importantly controlling their own destiny for the ACC regular season crown. COVID punched Duke in the stomach back in December, and the effects of that punch were felt in February with these rescheduled contests, but the Blue Devils responded fantastically. That’s an accomplishment that speaks well for this team’s resilience and ability to perform well in NCAA Tournament like conditions, and it deserves to be celebrated.