Last season was special for the Duke basketball program. I would even call it magical.
Duke faced a tough out of conference schedule with teams like Michigan State (in November) and Wisconsin (in December) that ended up being the same two teams Duke played in the Final Four to win its fifth national championship.
Throw in the rugged ACC schedule and it was easy to see Duke was battle tested and ready for March Madness.
The 2015-2016 Duke Basketball schedule has recently been released and, once again, Duke should be at, or near, the top in strength of schedule and RPI. One thing is for sure, Duke will again be battle tested for March Madness.
With an out of conference schedule that includes top teams such as Kentucky, a possible rematch of the national championship game against Wisconsin, Indiana, and Utah, as well as playing top ACC teams North Carolina (twice), Louisville (twice), Virginia, and Notre Dame, the Blue Devils will be ready for anything the NCAA Tournament throws at them.
With that said, here is my list of Top 10 Duke Basketball games this season in order of when they play:
1. Kentucky (neutral) – 11/17/15
Duke will start the season with back-to-back home games before traveling to Chicago to play Kentucky in the State Farm Champions Classic. Kentucky is as high as No. 3 in some preseason rankings.
Even though it’s an early season game, any time Duke and Kentucky play, the college basketball world will be watching. Both teams reached the Final Four last season. Many thought Duke and Kentucky would meet in the national championship game before Wisconsin pulled the upset, beating the undefeated Wildcats.
Both squads will look different this season, as both sent players to the 2015 NBA Draft and brought in multiple 5 star recruits. This will be a game fans, NBA scouts, and people everywhere will tune in to watch.
2. Wisconsin/Georgetown (neutral) – 11/22/15
After playing Kentucky in Chicago on a Tuesday, Duke will quickly get back on the road to head to New York for the weekend to take on VCU and either Wisconsin or Georgetown.
Wisconsin is No. 24 in some preseason rankings. The Wisconsin/Georgetown game makes the Top 10 list.
Many fans would love to see a rematch of the national championship game. However, Duke and Wisconsin will be different looking teams as Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, and Sam Dekker all were drafted in the 1st round of the NBA Draft.
Wisconsin fans would love to get revenge on Duke as the Blue Devils came back in the 2nd half last April to win the national championship.
There’s a possibility Duke will play two Final Four teams from last season in its first five games of this season.
A possible matchup with Georgetown would also make this list. The Hoyas reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament last season. Duke and Georgetown have had some epic battles in the past.
3. Indiana (home) – 12/2/15
Duke’s fifth home game of the year will be against Indiana in the ACC/Big10 Challenge. Indiana is No. 14 in some preseason rankings. With 10 national championships (five each) between them, Duke vs Indiana makes the Top 10 list.
The Hoosiers return most of their team that was an offensive threat last season. This out of conference (most likely) Top 25 matchup will have the Cameron Crazies bringing their A-game to welcome the Hoosiers to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
4. Utah (neutral) – 12/19/15
Duke will travel back to New York to play a neutral site game against Utah, which is ranked No. 13 in some preseason polls.
Duke and Utah played each other last season in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, and the Blue Devils pulled off the win on their way to the national championship.
Another possible Top 25 matchup on a neutral court with the Utes makes the Top 10 list.
5. Notre Dame (home) – 1/16/16
Duke split the series with Notre Dame last year with each team winning at home for the regular season.
However, Notre Dame pulled off the win in the semifinals against Duke in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. The Irish will be a different team with Jerian Grant being drafted with the 19th pick in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Notre Dame is slotted at No. 16 in some preseason rankings, making this another possible Top 25 matchup.
Duke only plays Notre Dame once in the regular season and it’s a home game for the Blue Devils, meaning the Cameron Crazies will be ready for the reigning ACC Champions.
6. Georgia Tech (away) – 2/2/16
I know what you’re thinking…how does Georgia Tech make the Top 10 list?
When you look at how the schedule is laid out for Duke, Georgia Tech will be the third consecutive road game for the Blue Devils.
After hosting Syracuse on January 18, Duke travels to N.C. State, Miami, and Georgia Tech. It’s almost three weeks without a home game. The next home game is N.C. State on February 6.
I am sure the coaches will be preparing the players for this long stretch of away games, as playing on the road in the ACC is tough. Being Duke and playing away games (when you are everybody’s Super Bowl game) is very difficult!
Georgia Tech being the third away game in a row makes the Top 10 list.
7. Virginia (home) – 2/13/16
Last season, Duke ended Virginia’s undefeated streak on the road at John Paul Jones arena when Tyus “Stones” Jones knocked down a three-pointer in the final seconds to seal the win.
That was a thrilling matchup of Top 5 teams, with Virginia at No. 2 and Duke at No. 5 in the polls.
This season, Virginia is No. 4 in some preseason rankings, but will be without Justin Anderson, who was drafted with the 21st pick in the first round of the NBA Draft.
However, the Hoos return Malcolm Brogdon, Mike Tobey and others from a team that was the best in college basketball last season in most major defensive statistics. This season, Tony Bennett will bring that pack line defense to Cameron Indoor Stadium as this will be a home game for Duke.
The Virginia-Duke game this season could possibly be a Top 10 or even Top 5 matchup.
8. North Carolina (away) – 2/17/16
This rivalry needs no introduction. It’s the best rivalry in sports.
Duke will travel to the Dean Dome to play North Carolina in the first game of the series. Last season, Duke swept the Tar Heels for home and away wins.
This season, North Carolina returns almost its entire roster and has the ability to be a great team, led by Marcus Paige.
However, will the academic scandal that still hangs over North Carolina be a distraction? The Heels are ranked at No. 2 in some preseason rankings, and this could be a Top 10 or even Top 5 matchup.
9. Louisville (away) – 2/20/16
This season, Duke plays Louisville twice. Duke will play Louisville at home on Monday, February 8, and finishes the regular season series with Louisville on the road at the Yum Center on Saturday, February 20.
Louisville made the Elite 8 last year before losing to Michigan State.
While the Cardinals may be outside the Top 25 in the preseason polls (No. 31 in one poll), there have been some epic battles between these two programs in the past.
From Duke pulling out the win against Louisville to win the Battle for Atlantis in the fall of 2012, to Louisville rallying back from Kevin Ware’s injury to beat Duke in the Elite 8 and win the NCAA Tournament in 2013, to Duke winning at Louisville last season, these two teams have played each other on the big stage.
This game has the potential to be a Top 25 matchup.
10. North Carolina (home) – 3/5/16
Duke will finish the series with North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, March 5 for the final game of the regular season.
As if this game didn’t already have enough hype, it is also senior night for Amile Jefferson. It has the potential to be a Top 10 or Top 5 matchup.
The Tar Heels will travel eight miles down the road to play in front of a rowdy group of Cameron Crazies who will have finished camping out in Krzyzewskiville for weeks just to get into the game that is the biggest rivalry in sports.
One would have to think it’s pretty much a lock that ESPN will once again bring its crew to do a live taping of ESPN College GameDay at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
This completes my Top 10 Duke Basketball games list.
Duke will play 14 out of its 31 regular season games against NCAA Tournament teams from last season. Those teams are Kentucky, VCU, Wisconsin or Georgetown, Indiana, Buffalo, Utah, Notre Dame, N.C. State (twice), Louisville (twice), Virginia, and North Carolina (twice).
When March Madness comes around, Duke will once again be battle tested and ready.