The Duke Hangover: Beat the Blue Devils at Your Own Risk

Ben SwainContributor IJanuary 17, 2013

Jan 12, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack fans storm the court after an upset of the Duke Blue Devils at PNC Arena. North Carolina State won 84-76. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The conversation heading into NC State’s trip to College Park to take on Maryland surrounded their historical inability to put a big win against in-state rival Duke behind them.

After all, NC State has beaten Duke in the regular season four times in the last 10 years and has been unsuccessful in stringing together back-to-back wins since defeating Duke and North Carolina consecutively in the 2002-03 season.

That streak continued on Wednesday night as Maryland pushed NC State’s post-Duke winless streak to three games, adding more evidence to the “Duke hangover” that tends to plague most teams who have been able to topple the Blue Devils during the regular season.

Over the past five seasons, Duke has lost 21 times during the regular season, excluding the three season-ending losses to North Carolina during that time frame for the purpose of examining how Duke opponents fare in their next regular season games. From those 21 chances, opponents have only been victorious 10 times in their next regular season game, which certainly does deliver some support to the idea of an unavoidable post-Duke letdown.

Is it simply a matter of a win against Duke meaning more than wins against other programs?

To fans, that certainly appears true.

From research performed by the Wall Street Journal, over the past 10 seasons only Ohio State, Georgetown, North Carolina, Maryland and Wake Forest have beaten Duke on their home courts and not had the fans rush the floor. In the six wins against Duke that did not result in a court-rushing, only Georgetown lost their next game, and perhaps that instance should be thrown out of the research altogether considering President Obama was in attendance and the Secret Service likely played a role in dissuading the Hoya fans from rushing the court.

Teams who did have their fans rush the court were a combined 5-9 in their next regular season games. 

Fans don’t play games, however. While the attention gained from beating Duke surely comes with a certain level of distraction, the explanation probably has more to do with basketball than with psychology.

The scouting report on Duke over the past 10 years has dictated an extra-physical approach to the game in order to attack the allegedly “soft” Blue Devils. That style takes a toll on teams not accustomed to playing at that level game-in and game-out, and the letdown heading into the next game is more of a physical degradation than an emotional one.

The schedule also plays a role. The majority of Duke’s regular-season losses have come in ACC play, which means the next opponent for teams coming off of a Duke win is another league opponent. Between 2003 and 2007 when the ACC was considered to be the nation’s premier basketball conference, teams beating Duke won their next game nearly 75 percent of the time.

That number has dropped to nearly 40 percent during the past five seasons when, outside of Duke and North Carolina, the ACC has been mediocre at best.

While it certainly is difficult to get past a win against Duke in order to focus on the next opponent, the teams that have been victorious against Duke, especially in conference play, haven’t displayed the consistency needed to string together victories regardless of who the wins have come against.

The most striking revelation when breaking down the “Duke hangover” is that the sample size simply is not great enough to truly define a trend, much less identify the cause. Since the 2002-03 season, Duke has lost less than 18 percent of their games during a time frame when Mike Krzyzewski has lacked a truly elite team compared to the standards set by the previous 10 seasons of Duke basketball.

Duke has been able to maintain a level of consistency in an era of college basketball defined by inconsistency.

The letdown most teams see following a win against Duke is typically a result of the game of basketball catching up to them, whether it’s from a lack of depth or a lack of talent that was successfully hidden for one game against a Duke team that likely only appeared to be elite.

Sure, it takes extra effort and an elevated level of play that’s difficult to sustain in order to beat Duke. Sure it’s easy to get caught looking back at a win against Duke with the attention that the accomplishment garners from fans, the media and even the NCAA selection committee.

To beat the Duke hangover, it takes consistency, focus and the desire to accomplish more over the course of the season than beating Duke.

Of course, as NC State found out, it also helps to avoid running into a solid opponent.