First Loss: November 17th vs. #2 Kentucky
How You’ll React: Whatever. It’s November. It’s a good learning experience for a young team who won’t have to deal with the expectations of trying to stay unbeaten. Kentucky still won’t win when it counts. If Coach K kept his one and dones back like Calipari, Duke would have won easily. Good thing you caught Duke this year instead of next year.
What it will REALLY mean: Most of the above reaction will be true … well, I mean, just the first part. This is the kind of Duke team that’s better suited to win six games in March than 28 games during the regular season, which is certainly better than the alternative of being built to win four games in March and 34 before that. Way more 2010 than 2014, if you want to look at things that way. Duke is long and athletic enough where there won’t be a “type” that bothers them because of their versatility. The teams who will beat Duke this year are teams who will be just plain better than Duke, especially if there’s foul trouble involved. The top of Duke’s lineup is good, not great. But the bench is lightyears behind what it was even a year ago. There’s no Grayson Allen lurking among Duke’s reserves this year.
First Loss: January 4th at Florida State
How You’ll React: Whatever. It’s January. It’s a good loss for an elite team who won’t have to deal with the expectations of trying to stay unbeaten. The team just needs to start playing with more focus because when this team is on, no one can beat them. Plus that one call pretty much changed the game, and I don’t know why Roy doesn’t use his timeouts better. He’s so stubborn. Now watch FSU stop caring about basketball and go on a losing streak.
What it will REALLY mean: Florida State is better than a lot of people realize, and they have size and athleticism that will give good teams all they want. Having said that, the Noles host UNC on the 4th, and then play at Miami, at NC State, at home against Virginia, and then on the road again at Louisville. That’s a classic “upset #1, then go lose the next four” scenario that we always see with the upstart teams in the ACC. As for North Carolina, the kind of team that can give the Tar Heels trouble will succeed in playing half-court basketball, and have the size and versatility to have shooters/slashers at the 3 and 4. This game will also likely be an adjustment to playing on the road in front of a hostile crowd, and though a veteran team doesn’t NEED a “good loss”, finishing with 9 road games over the last 16 isn’t going to be easy. Compare that to Duke who plays 9 of the last 16 at home.
North Carolina State
First Loss: December 19th at Missouri
How You’ll React: Same old State. This team is better than this. You can’t come out flat on the road and expect to win, especially when you’re not getting any calls. Cat needs to play better, maybe Gott should start calling him Anthony.
What it will REALLY mean: Probably all of the above will be true other than the “not getting any calls” comment. State will likely live and die with Cat Barber this season, especially with no clear backup if he’s having an off game or gets in any kind of foul trouble. Because of that, Barber will have ACC POY potential, but he’s going to need to handle the pressure of being “the man” in every game the Wolfpack plays against a decent opponent. The good news is he has the perfect coach for building up his confidence. The bad news is it will take a loss or two for it to kick in. If a team can shut down Barber, they can, by proxy, shut down the entire team. More often than not, Cat’s going to win his battles, but he’ll lose a few head-scratchers along the way.
First Loss: November 15th at Bucknell
How You’ll React: Danny Manning has got to start performing soon or he’s in trouble. Codi’s out so I get it, but still, Wake should beat Bucknell. It feels like so long ago when we were number one in the country. This sucks.
What it will REALLY mean: Bucknell won 19 games a year ago so it wouldn’t be THAT bad of a loss, especially with the injuries and recent attrition this early in the season. But it’s not wrong to say Wake should be beating Bucknell. Wake Forest is an ACC school with a great arena, a nice city, a beautiful campus, and a passionate fan base. There’s no excuse that Danny Manning can’t pull in recruits to be on the level of NC State, Miami, FSU, and even Notre Dame. When you hire a Danny Manning, you’re hiring recruits, and the return on that investment hasn’t been there. Wake has always been a “star” school, with Paul and Duncan and a surprisingly long list of NBA stars. I’d LOVE to see Wake become a system school where you have a really fun offense or a frustrating defense that not only beats teams like Bucknell, but also steals games from the top half of the ACC. Whatever the answer, it’s just sad. The program deserves better.