Biggest win: February 17th at North Carolina
How you’ll react: Duke OWNS North Carolina and that’s not changing anytime soon. Four in a row. 11 out of 14. This team is ready to go back to back, y’all. If [Insert Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, or Luke Kennard] isn’t player of the year, it’s media bias.
What it will REALLY mean: Duke will likely be riding a wave of confidence heading into the game in Chapel Hill coming off of a tough stretch of games against NC State, Louisville, and Virginia, all in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Match that confidence with the experience of having won tough games in Chapel Hill before, and this just feels like an upset win in Duke’s favor. While fan confidence (and likely, media confidence as well) will be at an all-time high should that win become a reality, this Duke team is not anywhere close to being as good as last year’s team, and the grind of the regular season will likely hit the thin Blue Devils hard down the stretch before the post-season regrouping effort. Duke is built to win any game they play (if two of the above three get hot in a single game, look out), but they’re not built to win all of them (if two of the above three are off in a single game, woof).
Biggest win: March 5th at Duke
How you’ll react: Hansbrough Indoor Stadium! Go ahead and make Final Four plans. This team is finally coming together and won’t lose for the rest of the season.
What it will REALLY mean: First, UNC is going to beat Maryland at home early in the year, but this is a much bigger game in the grand scheme of things. UNC is good. Very good. But the biggest advantage they’ll have this year is experience, and experience can win games in tough environments. The Tar Heels should have won in Durham last year, and there’s no Tyus Jones or Jahlil Okafor on Duke’s roster this season. What will it mean long term for the Heels? I’m still not sold on the Tar Heels as a guaranteed Final Four team, but a win like this certainly wouldn’t hurt heading into the ACC Tournament and March Madness.
Biggest win: February 15th at Virginia
How you’ll react: Man, that just saved State’s season. It’s doubtful that the NCAA tournament is even a possibility without that win. How the hell did State just win that game?
What it will REALLY mean: All of that is probably going to be right. NC State seemingly always needs a series of improbable wins down the stretch and into the ACC Tournament, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different. There’s honestly no reason NC State should beat Virginia, but there’s also no reason NC State should have beaten Duke last year, or won at North Carolina. The way the schedule plays out, this is just the most likely of season-saving wins to start turning things around just in time. It’s more about the schedule than about the opponent, so chill out, Virginia fans.
Biggest win: February 13th at NC State
How you’ll react: Oh my God, State. Wake just knocked you out of the NCAA tournament. Look, the Deacs at least have an excuse for not making the tournament because of the Bzdelik era, but Gottfried should be fired immediately for not making the tournament with that roster.
What it will REALLY mean: As noted above, a loss like this would likely trigger a crazy end-of-season run to get the Pack back into the NCAA tournament as the hot team nobody wants to see in their bracket. But why can’t it mean that for Wake? The Deacs had a nice win vs. NC State last year, and then turned around and got blown out by Georgia Tech. Then the game was there for Wake against Virginia before a wasted end-of-game possession led to an absolute tailspin down the stretch with the only bright spot being a win against an equally frustrating Pitt squad. HOPEFULLY Wake will have another big win this year, and Danny Manning will be able to build on it and do something special towards the end of the season. Nine of the last 10 games for Wake are against beatable teams this season, and there’s no excuse why the Deacs can’t make a run during that key stretch.