Surviving road games is how Duke can win suddenly wide open ACC
The Donald L. Tucker Center has been a house of horrors for Duke. There is no getting around this.
Since 2002, four Duke teams have gone into Tallahassee to play Florida State and walked out having an 'L' hung on their resume. This is a road trip the Blue Devils have learned not to take lightly. Again, with good reason. Monday night Duke led the Seminoles by eight at halftime and by as many as 14 in the second half.
Duke survived, 73-70.
But that is the main thing to take away here: Duke survived.
Right now, with the ACC race shaping up as competitive as it is, that's all Duke needs to keep doing. Just survive and keep the win train moving along. It's only 1.5 games behind Virginia for first-place in the conference standings and as long as it keeps that distance close, Duke will be able to give itself a chance to win the regular-season title.
Which would all but cement a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Even with Duke's win over a week ago at Virginia to knock the Cavaliers from the ranks of the unbeaten, the ACC once again was shaping up to go through Charlottesville. Virginia responded from the Duke loss to beat North Carolina (by 11) on the road and then hung on to beat Louisville (by 5) on Saturday night.
But in that victory over the Cardinals, the Cavaliers lost their most important player: junior guard Justin Anderson.
Anderson will miss the next 4-6 weeks because of a fractured a finger on his left hand early in Saturday's game. He's the complimentary piece that makes point guard Malcolm Brogdon better and keeps defenses honest when Virginia is on offense. But without him, there's a chance that the Cavaliers might be a much different team.
And that's where Duke comes in.
Because of the ACC's unbalanced schedule, the Blue Devils already own the upperhand over the Cavaliers. Per the conference's rules, when two teams are tied in the standings, regular-season head-to-head results are the primary tie breaking method.
And now that Duke thumped Notre Dame over the weekend to split the season series with the Fighting Irish, the Blue Devils hold that advantage, too. (ACC rules dictate that if two teams at the top of the standings are tied and split the season series, the record against the opponent in the highest spot is used.)
Once again: Advantage Duke.
So yes, all Duke has to keep doing is surviving. One hiccup by Virginia would give the Blue Devils the opening they've been searching for since conference play started. There are still many potential hurdles — four games against Syracuse and North Carolina, for starters — but surviving will be key.
The wins don't have to be pretty or memorable, they just have to keep coming.
For the better part of the last decade, Florida State has been the site where Duke's plans take a detour. After seeing a 14-point second half lead whittled down to a single possession at times, the Blue Devils were staring at a golden opportunity wasted. Their final six minutes weren't exactly the portrait of efficiency either, going 2-for-6 from the field with three turnovers.
It wasn't easy or how they planned it, but Duke was still able to leave the building without a 'L' on the resume. It survived.
Right now, that's all that matters.