When Duke loses at Pittsburgh on Monday and Syracuse on Saturday, which is certainly possible, fans will howl: “What’s wrong with Duke?!”
When Duke wins out, all nine games on the ACC schedule, fans will demand to know: “How did Duke turn it around?!”
The answer to both questions is simple. It’s tough to win on the road against good teams. Period. Panic at your own risk.
Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency figures have Duke on the losing side of both road games this week and the winning side of every remaining game on the ACC schedule. (Because Duke has less than a 100 percent chance in each of those final nine games, it’s still likely the Blue Devils will drop one of them -- most likely at North Carolina or at home against Syracuse -- and finish 13-5 in the ACC.)
That makes this week a good reminder that it’s important to consider the schedule before overreacting to wins and losses, for any team. Only the really good teams can win on the road against other good teams. Duke, at the moment, isn’t in that class, as neutral-site losses to Kansas and Arizona and road losses to Notre Dame and Clemson can attest. Maybe the Blue Devils can get there this week. Maybe not.
Based on Pomeroy’s probabilities, Duke has a 50-50 shot of losing both games. It’s a coin flip, really. By the same token, Duke has about the same chances of sweeping North Carolina. Pomeroy’s numbers have North Carolina finishing 9-9, Wake Forest 8-10 and N.C. State 7-11.
As always, these numbers do not take into account injuries, illnesses, girlfriend troubles, weather, travel, exam weeks or any of the other myriad factors that can play into a college athlete’s performance. But they do offer a reason not to overreact if Duke struggles this week or proceeds to cruise home to the finish.