Duke is defending its 2013 national title and remains a hot pick to start the season in, at a minimum, the top three of the major preseason polls. The Devils haven't made their title defense easy, though, loading up the agenda with lots of big names and a busy March that will feature seven games. The flavor of the slate is heavily that of the program's navigator -- John Danowski -- and will challenge the Blue Devils from early-February right through the end of April.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
March 2: v. Maryland (at Baltimore, M.D.); March 15: North Carolina; March 23: Syracuse; April 5: @Notre Dame; April 11: @Virginia
Everyone in the ACC is facing a brutal schedule (analysis!), but Duke's league slate worked out fairly well for the Devils. The five-game regular season sets up favorably, providing Duke the opportunity to recalibrate should things go awry:
- Duke only sees one period with back-to-back ACC games (the early-April dates against Notre Dame and Virginia). That isn't too bad, allowing Duke to avoid getting into standings slumps should everything move sideways. Making the ACC Tournament in 2014 is going to be a difficult slog, and separating ACC dates could work in Duke's favor in the long run.
- All but two of Duke's conference dates feature at least six days of rest before faceoff. And even those two dates with short rest -- games against North Carolina and Syracuse (both home games for Duke) -- have as an appetizer manageable tilts -- against Marquette and Furman, respectively -- where Duke can get in a tune-up and rest major contributors. That kind of balance can create very favorable competitive circumstances.
- The Maryland date is part of the Faceoff Classic at M&T Bank Stadium. I'm not sure that the Devils are pleased about the 10:30 A.M. start time, but it beats having trash thrown at you in Byrd.
February 15: Denver; February 21: Pennsylvania; March 9: @Loyola
Duke didn't need to take on additional hostile fire in 2014; the power of the ACC -- not to mention the supplemental games provided through the ACC Tournament (now a real thing that isn't totally cockamamie!) -- should supply the Devils with enough strength to situate Duke's schedule in a valuable position come NCAA Tournament time. That didn't stop the Blue Devils from doing a line of horseradish, though, as Duke included three nationally-relevant teams -- Denver, Pennsylvania, and Loyola -- on the out-of-conference portion of their 2014 slate, a trio of teams capable of top 15 existences (if not higher). The end result is that over half of Duke's regular season schedule will feature programs in the top quarter of Division I lacrosse, a decidedly aggressive approach to preparing for Memorial Monday.
My Bed is Comfortable and Warm
February 8: Jacksonville; February 15: Denver; February 21: Pennsylvania; February 23: Stony Brook
This is the second season in a row that Duke will open with four consecutive home games. This stretch eats up all of February for the Devils, a comfortable entrance to whatever 2014 will provide for college lacrosse. Whether this will create benefit for Duke is unclear: In 2013, the Devils went just 2-2 in their opening four home games, beating just Jacksonville and Mercer and falling to Denver and Notre Dame. Regardless, Duke is sticking around Koskinen at the sunrise of its season this coming spring, potentially permitting the Devils to control their historically uneven starts to the season.