Duke’s Zion Williamson takes off from foul line for a monster dunk
Duke starts its basketball regular-season schedule with a Super Bowl-level matchup and, traditionally, ends it with another.
In between, the Blue Devils play in one of the toughest in-season tournaments and, finally, have two regular-season games with fellow ACC heavyweight Virginia.
Playing Kentucky to open the season sets up the possibility of the teams playing their first and last games against each other. A Duke-Kentucky national title game in Minneapolis on April 8, 2019, is a definite possibility considering the young talent both teams possess.
As always, Duke closes its regular-season schedule against fierce rival North Carolina. This season, that game is at Chapel Hill on March 9.
For the second year in a row, Duke has been paired with Indiana in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Blue Devils won, 91-81, at Indiana last season and these season’s game at Cameron is Duke’s first after returning from the long trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
Speaking of the Maui tournament, it’s field includes projected top-10 teams in Duke, Gonzaga and Auburn. The Blue Devils will play San Diego State to open the tournament on Nov. 19 and either Auburn or Xavier the following day. Arizona, Illinois and Iowa State are also in the tournament.
Because Duke’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge game is at home, the Blue Devils won’t play a true road game until Jan. 8 when they play at Wake Forest. Nothing surprising here as that’s been Duke’s scheduling philosophy for years.
The ACC schedule also includes trips to Florida State, Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in addition to Virginia and North Carolina. There are plenty of tests there.
Here are some key dates in Duke’s schedule:
Mark the calendar
Nov. 6 vs. Kentucky at Indianapolis (9:30 p.m.)
The college basketball season starts with the Champions Classic doubleheader. Michigan State and Kansas play first with Duke and Kentucky the nightcap. While Duke’s fiercest rival from its point of view is North Carolina, Wildcats fans have a deep hatred of Duke. Both teams figure to be among the nation’s top five teams when the first rankings of the season come out. They are the two programs who have embraced one-and-done players the most. This will be an intense game.
Dec. 1 vs. Stetson (7 p.m.)
Every school lines up easy non-conference home opponents. But Duke’s other such games are more reasonable -- Playing Army on Veteran’s Day is neat, playing Mid-American Conference favorite Eastern Michigan on Nov. 14 is more of a test. Stetson was a dreadful 12-20 team a year ago while winning just four games in its league, the Atlantic Sun. Duke should have no trouble making quick work of the Hatters.
Best road trip
Feb. 9 at Virginia (6 p.m.)
The Cavaliers dominated in the ACC, going 17-1 in league play last season, and won the ACC tournament prior to their epic NCAA fail against Maryland-Baltimore County. This season, for the first time since 2011, Duke and Virginia will play twice in the regular season. The game at Cameron is Jan. 19 so the rematch at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville carries extra weight in the ACC regular-season title race.
Most difficult stretch
Feb 2-12 (St. John’s, Boston College, Virginia, Louisville)
Playing a nonconference game in the middle of the traditional ACC season is a difficult mental challenge. One needs only look to Duke’s stunning 81-77 loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden as an example. The Blue Devils face such a situation again this season, albeit at home, when St. John’s comes to Cameron Indoor on Feb 2. Three days later, the Blue Devils face Boston College in ACC play at home before difficult league road trips to Virginia (Feb. 9) and Louisville (Feb. 12).
Jan. 22-28 (Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame)
Looking league play only here, Duke’s games with Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame over a six-day stretch appears to be the least taxing. Yes it will be weird when Duke plays at Pittsburgh on Jan. 22 where the Panthers are now coached by former Duke assistant Jeff Capel. But the Panthers figure to still be among the ACC’s least-talented teams. Duke plays at home with Georgia Tech on Jan. 26 and the Yellow Jackets project as another team that will be playing on Tuesday at the ACC tournament. The toughest game of these three is the trip to Notre Dame two days later. It’s certainly a game Duke could lose. But the Blue Devils should enter it having not been tested over its previous two games.
Three games to know
Jan. 12 -- at Florida State (2 p.m.) The Blue Devils and Seminoles opened ACC play last season with a memorable 100-93 Duke win at Cameron Indoor. Both teams would eventually make the flnal eight of the NCAA tournament, falling a win short of the Final Four. Duke has a mixed history playing FSU at Tallahassee. The Blue Devils were whipped, 88-72, their last trip there on Jan. 10, 2017.
Feb. 16 -- N.C State (4 or 6 p.m.) This is starts a pretty cool week of Triangle basketball where the Blue Devils face their two closest geographic rivals in back-to-back games. Last year’s stunning 96-85 loss to the Wolfpack at PNC Arena sent N.C. State on the way to an NCAA tournament berth and left Duke questioning its defense. The Wolfpack showed last season it won’t be intimidated against ranked foes under coach Kevin Keatts.
Feb. 20 -- North Carolina (9 p.m.) This is the latest date ever scheduled for the first Duke-UNC game of the regular season. In 2014, the teams didn’t meet until Feb. 20 but that was due to a snow-related postponement of the game from eight days earlier. Duke will have played 12 ACC games before it plays UNC twice over the regular season’s final six games.
Duke basketball schedule
Nov. 6 Kentucky (at Indianapolis)
Nov. 11 Army
Nov. 14 Eastern Michigan
Nov. 19 San Diego State (at Maui)
Nov. 20 Auburn or Xavier (at Maui)
Nov. 21 Opponent TBD (at Maui)
Nov. 27 Indiana
Dec. 1 Stetson
Dec. 5 Hartford
Dec. 8 Yale
Dec. 18 Princeton
Dec. 20 Texas Tech (at New York)
Jan. 5 Clemson
Jan. 8 at Wake Forest
Jan. 12 at Florida State
Jan. 14 Syracuse
Jan. 19 Virginia
Jan. 22 at Pittsburgh
Jan. 26 Georgia Tech
Jan. 28 at Notre Dame
Feb. 2 St. John’s
Feb. 5 Boston College
Feb. 9 at Virginia
Feb. 12 at Louisville
Feb. 16 N.C. State
Feb. 20 North Carolina
Feb. 23 at Syracuse
Feb. 26 at Virginia Tech
March 2 Miami
March 5 Wake Forest
March 9 at North Carolina