College Basketball

Duke rolled (mostly) through regular season

Before Duke averted the season turning for disaster with a win at No. 2 Virginia, there was the season-defining moment at Louisville.

Despite a regular season that featured just three losses (and 28 wins), the Blue Devils often referred to it as a roller coaster. The season certainly began with a quick climb to the top, as Duke won its first 13 games by double-digits and, out of 520 total minutes, only trailed for 6:13 of game time. The largest deficit faced during that stretch: 6-2 at Wisconsin.

But then the Blue Devils took a plunge, dropping back-to-back games against N.C. State and, shockingly, Miami. The Hurricanes blew the Blue Devils out at Cameron Indoor, as Jim Larrañaga sat afterward and laid bare how Duke’s defense was vulnerable against high pick-and-rolls.

After that 90-74 loss to Miami, the Duke staff stayed up until 5 a.m. figuring out how to fix the Blue Devils’ issues. The result was the debut of a 2-3 zone against Louisville, and the Blue Devils pulled off the road upset of then-No. 6 Louisville, 63-52.

“With the success that came after we won all those games, we kind of lost our edge a little bit,” Quinn Cook said after the game. “We got it back – it took two losses to get it back – but we’re here now, 15-2. We’re happy with where we’re going.”

The only other smudge on Duke’s regular-season resume came at Notre Dame, in a 77-73 loss that was decided in the final minute. Coach Mike Krzyzewski felt his team played well enough to win. And a few days (and the departure of Rasheed Sulaimon) later, the Blue Devils followed that performance with another great road win, at previously undefeated Virginia.

That 69-63 win over the Cavaliers is in the running for the distinction of Duke’s best regular-season win. Other options: the 90-60 thrashing of Notre Dame at home, which featured a 43-7 Duke run and a first half during which Duke shot 81 percent; the 92-90 overtime win against North Carolina, during which Duke erased a seven-point deficit in the final 1:30 of regulation; rallying from 10 down at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s to deliver Krzyzewski his 1,000th win; and the 80-70 win at then-No. 2 Wisconsin in the ACC-Big 10 challenge, the first confirmation that the Blue Devils could be final-weekend-of-the-year material.