Duke’s biggest win this season was against a previously undefeated, ranked team from Wisconsin.
Now, the surging seventh-ranked Blue Devils (6-0) look to knock off a similar foe from the Badger state when No. 20 Wisconsin visits Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday in the first-ever meeting between the programs as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
After beating then-No. 11 Marquette 77-73 last Wednesday in the final of the Maui Invitational - then routing Eastern Kentucky 78-43 Sunday - Duke jumped six spots in the top 25 to its highest ranking since last New Year’s Day.
With the help of a pair of freshmen, the Blue Devils have begun to reassert themselves after last season’s rare first-round exit from the NCAA tournament.
Forward Kyle Singler was the MVP of the Maui Invitational, and leads Duke with 14.3 points per game, but it was fellow freshman Taylor King who had 27 points off the bench in just 21 minutes against Eastern Kentucky. Duke’s bench is averaging 33.3 ppg this season after putting up just 14.4 per game last season.
“We do have a lot of different guys, and we’d like to see them all play well at the same time,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “… To think that they’re just going to be outstanding every game, it’s just not going to happen. The thing that you hope is that when they struggle a little bit, they don’t struggle on defense.”
The Badgers (5-0) are known for their defense, as they were 10th-best in the nation last season, allowing just 57.9 points per game. Coach Bo Ryan’s team was upset as a No. 2 seed in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but has rebounded well from the loss of top scorer Alando Tucker and point guard Kammron Taylor, bursting out to its best start since the 1996-97 season.
After Saturday’s 68-49 home win over Georgia, Wisconsin entered the top 25 for the first time this season, but this will be the Badgers’ first road game. Since Ryan took over in Madison before the 2001-02 season, Wisconsin is just 31-36 on the road next to a 96-5 home mark.
Wisconsin is also 0-4 all-time on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, while Duke is the only team that has never lost a game in the event, going 8-0. The Blue Devils have also won 54 straight non-conference home games.
Still, Krzyzewski has said he’s worried about Wisconsin’s size, including 6-foot-11 senior Brian Butch, 6-11 senior Greg Stiemsma and 6-7 junior Joe Krabbenhoft. Duke, which starts three guards, is relatively small, with Singler and Lance Thomas (both 6-8) the only starters over 6-4.
“It’s not like Wisconsin is big and slow either. They’re big and mobile,” Krzyzewski said. “They have a swing offense where the big guys come out, and that means that everyone has to be pretty good with the ball. The fact is, they have some older guys so they’re accustomed to doing it. It’s a different offense than what is run in our league and they run it well.”
But it was guards Trevon Hughes and Michael Flowers who combined for 23 second-half points to put Georgia away. The Badgers trailed 32-23 at the half, but outscored Georgia 45-17 in the second frame.
Hughes and Flowers also lead Wisconsin’s dominating defense. Badger opponents are shooting just 34.0 percent this season, and Wisconsin is tops in the nation, allowing just 45.6 ppg.
“It isn’t so much that you’re the quickest guy in the world in the 10-yard dash,” Ryan said. “It’s their anticipation, it’s their quick hands. They want to be good defensively.”