Do the Duke Blue Devils Prefer the Second Date?


The Duke Blue Devils will be playing the Michigan State Spartans for the second time this season when they meet tonight at 6:09 ET on TBS. The Spartans are not the only team that Duke has played twice this season. They play several of their ACC conference opponents twice, which the chance for more matchups in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

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So how did Duke do the second time that they saw a team? Did their performance improve in the second matchup, or did teams adapt to their style?

Duke played Wake Forest, NC State, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Notre Dame. The Blue Devils in fact faced the Fighting Irish three times over the course of the year. Should Duke and Wisconsin both win, that would the second time that those two teams will meet this year. So let’s see if Duke or their opponents learn from playing a second time.

Wake Forest

First: Duke 73-65 (Jan)
Second: Duke 94-51 (Mar)
Margin of Improvement: +36

Wake Forest was not a strong opponent this year, but they caught the Blue Devils early in the conference schedule when the Devils had only seen Boston College. The result was a much closer game than anticipated with Quinn Cook bailing out Duke. The Blue Devils then dropped the next game to State.

By the time March rolled around, Duke and Wake were on decidedly different paths. Duke was trying to secure a one seed while Wake was looking at no special future. Duke clearly was the more dominant team in game 2 than game 1.

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  • NC State
    First: State 87-75 (Jan)
    Second: Duke 77-53 (Mar)
    Margin of Improvement: +36
    The early part of the Duke schedule showed the Blue Devils sleepwalking against conference foes. That finally bit them when NC State beat them by twelve in Raleigh. State was able to get a good performance (they were up and down) from their talent which had more experience than Duke at the same stage.

    Again, minor changes to Duke’s rotation were in full effect in the ACC Tournament and Duke was able to blow out a State team that had just beat Pitt in a physical game. The result was that Duke adapted and executed. For the second time, Duke saw a thirty point swing between results.

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    Notre Dame
    First: Notre Dame 77-73 (Jan)
    Second: Duke 90-60 (Feb)
    Margin of Improvement #1: +34
    The Irish are a step up in quality from the other two teams so far. Home court had a little something to do with it. Duke and the Irish match up well together, but that did not prevent Duke from having a similar improvement between game 1 and game 2 to their other improvements.

    Third: Notre Dame 74-64 (Mar)
    Margin of Improvement #2: -40, from game 1: -6

    Notre Dame got plenty of tape in their thirty point beatdown from Duke. They also got the option that no other team on this list got, a third game. The trend so far has been Duke losing or winning close in the first game and then laying the wood in the third game. Michigan State will not be getting a third game.

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  • Syracuse
    First: Duke 80-72 (Feb early)
    Second: Duke 73-54 (Feb late)
    Margin of Improvement: +11
    By the time Duke played Syracuse, they had figured out their current system. This may account for the more erratic results of the earlier teams on this list. Duke played Syracuse about the same each time. Home court swung the result a little. Still Duke did show improvement between the two games.

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  • North Carolina
    First: Duke 92-90 (Feb)
    Second: Duke 84-77 (Mar)
    Margin of Improvement: +5
    Both Tar Heel-Duke games were hotly contested. Still, Duke managed to win them both. They even won with an increased margin away in the second game. The margin of improvement was more modest, but was still present here as well.

    Michigan State:
    First: Duke 81-71

    So which of these scenarios does Michigan State fit? They played Duke early and have not played the Blue Devils since rotation adjustments were made. That would seem to fit them more with Wake, State, and Notre Dame, where Duke made a +30 point improvement.

    Even if it doesn’t, Duke has shown improvement against EVERY repeat foe. Since they had a ten point victory the first time against the Spartans, it seems fair to say that Duke will have a comfortable victory tonight.