The Duke Blue Devils will take to the court again this Tuesday against South Carolina State in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After a two-week-long break in the action, Duke enters what I am calling phase II of the season which consists of four games.
I am not sure what Mike Krzyzewski may term it but I do know he does break down the season to teach lessons, etc. This has been a practice of his for years but this does not mean my take is accurate but lets give it a shot.
So what is phase II? Quite simply games that get progressively tougher after the team returns from an extended break. And the four games fall from December 14th to the 22nd.
While this is no knock on the next opponent, South Carolina State is possibly the easiest team left on the schedule. And that is what you want coming back from exams and holidays. And yes, I know they have won two consecutive games.
Duke has often struggled no matter the year against lesser opponents after holiday breaks. So it seems Mike Krzyzewski was aware of that and scheduled accordingly.
The Blue Devils will then take to the court again just two days later this time against Appalachian State on Thursday in Cameron. Appalachian should be an upgrade from the last opponent where they sit at 5-5 but are a defensive-minded team that plays at a slower pace.
Duke will then face Cleveland State in Cameron, again, two days from their last game. But this time there is an early start of 4:00 which means Duke could be a little leg-weary. This team is yet again, better than the last two opponents and can give you a game. And that is exactly what the team needs to get to their fourth game in phase II.
That fourth game will be played on December 22nd. The longer break allows for Duke to rest a bit after three games in less than six days. It also allows film study for the next opponent Virginia Tech at home which is the ACC opener for the Blue Devils.
And the ACC opener is the grand prize of phase II with hopes of going 1-0 to kick off the league season. And Duke will need their focus from the Hokies have stumbled a bit of late and will be hungry on the national stage.
Anyhow, there is a seven-day break before Duke plays Clemson again on December 29th and that begins a new phase where Duke will play two ACC games in four days. In fact, the season rarely has a break after that, so the staff will likely see those games in two-game clusters, etc.
What Duke is likely to seek to do is continue to build a little depth before their ACC opener. AJ Griffin is slowly getting back to the player he was before injuries and setbacks and they will look for consistency from a guy who will be majorly deepened on before a long season ends.
Duke will also likely see the talented Paolo Banchero start to mix his game up a bit on offense with the realization he can be a force near the rim.
The bottom line is there is a lot to work on.
We will also see in the next few days how this team has adjusted since losing to Ohio State. But honestly, we will see more on that past what I am calling phase II for the next four games are not on the road.
Still, one has to think the team learned a lot simply by watching basketball and studying game films over the break.
And we have all seen Purdue go down as number one and at the time of this writing Villanova travels to Baylor today and the Bears are expected to be the new number one team with a win. A loss however would possibly put Duke back in the top spot where they currently sit at #3.
So, the staff hopes phase II leads to four consecutive wins culminating with going 1-0 in the ACC. Fans may be looking over their shoulder at meaningless December rankings, but the team just wants to get better and forge their way to an 11-1 before the meat of the ACC season begins.
Lastly, it is a long season. While it is all grand in nature to be ranked near the top of the rankings in December it will always be March and possibly April that counts the most.