Ranking the Blue Devils’ toughest non-ACC games

by Kyle Boone

How’s this for a doozy of a matchup to start the college basketball season? Kentuckyvs. Duke, the No. 1 and No. 3 ranked teams in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one), respectively, will start their non-conference slates in 2018 facing one another as part of the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The matchup is the headliner of Duke’s non-conference schedule, which was released last week, and far and away the most challenging on its entire schedule. Indiana also looms as a worthy challenger in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and the Maui Invitational gives Duke an opportunity to potentially face a top-10 Gonzagasquad on a neutral floor. Here’s a look at Duke’s 2018 non-conference schedule.

This is what you expect from a typical Duke non-con slate — tough games (mostly at home), with a headliner or two bound to grab attention early in the season. Let’s dissect the schedule on a more granular level by looking at the five most challenging for the Blue Devils — ranked countdown style from 5 to 1.

5. Texas Tech

Nov. 5 at Madison Square Garden 2017-18 record: 27-10 Coach: Chris Beard Outlook: In Year 2 under Chris Beard last season, Texas Tech emerged as a legitimate Big 12 title contender before fading down the stretch. And then history was made. The Red Raiders advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, before ultimately falling to eventual national champion Villanova. Gone are Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, Zach Smith and Niem Stevenson, among others, but a promising core is back, centered around rising sophomores Jarrett Culver and Davide Moretti that will surprise some as the face of a feisty squad last season. Based on Beard’s recent track record, I’m ready to say Texas Tech will be in the NCAA Tournament next season. That means this late December battle won;t be an easy win for Duke.

4. St. John’s

Feb. 2 in Durham, North Carolina 2017-18 record: 16-17 Coach: Chris Mullin Outlook: The Red Storm fell off a cliff last season, losing 11 straight starting in December and running through the end of January. Then they bounced back miraculously by ousting then-No. 4 Duke 81-77 on the strength of an electric Shamorie Ponds performance. With Ponds and third-leading scorer Marvin Clark IIback in 2018, Chris Mullin may finally have the goods to string together a winning season — something he’s already proven he doesn’t need to upset Duke.

3. Indiana

Nov. 27 in Durham, North Carolina (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) 2017-18 record: 16-15 Coach: Archie Miller Outlook: Year 1 under Archie Miller at  Indiana was an up-and-down ride that included impressive wins over Penn State, Maryland, Iowa and Notre Dame. But it also included baffling losses, like an inexplicable implosion against Indiana State and an even more head-scratching loss to Fort Wayne. But in Year Two, Miller brings in a top-10 recruiting class and returns leading scorer Juwan Morgan — both of which should give Miller a solid base on which to build on from last season. They’ll have a ton of talent, and even though they remain fairly young, I think the Hoosiers have a good shot at stacking up nicely with Duke. IU is inexperienced and young but then there’sDuke’s version of inexperienced and young — a team that very well could start at least four freshmen next season.

2. Maui Invitational

Nov. 19 vs. San Diego State at Lahaina, Hawaii Nov. 20 vs. Xavier or Auburn at Lahaina, Hawaii Nov. 21 vs. Xavier, Arizona, Illinois or Iowa State at Lahaina, Hawaii Outllok: Duke will tip off the Maui Invitational by playing San Diego State then either Auburn or Xavier. Neither are guaranteed wins, but the grand prize showdown everyone is expecting is Gonzaga-Duke in the title game — assuming Duke wins its first two in paradise and Gonzaga does the same.

Duke will have its work cut out to top the Bulldogs if this dream matchup unfurls, as Mark Few brings into 2018 a top-10 team with NCAA Championship aspirations.

 

1. Kentucky

Nov. 6 at Indianapolis in Champions Classic 2017-18 record: 26-11 Coach: John Calipari Outlook: It’s likely going to be either Kansas or Kentucky who claim the preseason No. 1 overall spot. We have the Wildcats ranked first in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one), and with good reason. Not only does John Calipari get back Quade Green and PJ Washington, but he’s also bringing in graduate transfer Reid Travis, who will be productive from Day One, as well as the No. 2 recruiting class. Kentucky will push Duke to the brink, and may be the only team in the country that can outmatch Duke talent for talent. This is by far Duke’s biggest test — and it comes on opening night.

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