There's more than revenge at stake for Duke in Saturday's matchup with Miami. The Blue Devils second contest with Miami could ultimately send the victor soaring to a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Even as Miami raced out to a 13-3 record and a 4-0 start in ACC action, many remained skeptical about the team's staying power and ability to hold up during an arduous conference schedule. That all changed Jan. 23 in Coral Gables.
Miami mashed Duke 90-63, sending shock waves across the national basketball landscape. The Blue Devils, then the top-ranked team in America, didn't stand a chance as the Hurricanes raced out to a 42-19 halftime advantage.
The victory cemented Miami's spot in national rankings and left Duke fans across the country scratching their heads. It was the third-worst defeat for any No. 1 ranked team and Duke's most lopsided regular season loss since 1984.
''We expected them to be terrific, and we have to match terrific, and then you have a terrific game,'' Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski told the Associated Press via FOX Sports . ''What you had was a terrific win for them, but not a terrific game. We didn't hold our end of the bargain.''
No. 3 Duke has a shot to earn redemption, rebound from Thursday's loss at Virginia and gain ground on the conference's top spot Saturday. Meanwhile, No. 5 Miami can clinch the ACC regular-season title with a win.
So who stands to gain the most from a victory in Saturday's showdown at Durham?
You could argue that Miami needs to reassert itself after an 80-65 loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 23 finally took some wind out of the squad's sails. The defeat snapped a 13-game win streak but the Hurricanes bounced back with a 76-58 victory over Virginia Tech.
A Miami win would lock up a regular season conference crown and likely assure the Hurricanes a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Jim Larranaga currently has his team's confidence at an all-time high right now and a victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium would take the program into unprecedented territory.
Duke is 14-0 on its home court this season and has treated conference foes quite unkindly in front of the Cameron Crazies. The Blue Devils have battered visiting ACC opponents at home this season, claiming six double-digit wins in seven matchups.
Coach K's team is still looking to peak.
Duke started the season 15-0 but have proven susceptible on the road (four conference losses). That's never a good sign for a squad looking to survive the rigors of March basketball.
The Blue Devils could remain in contention for an ACC regular-season title with a win. A loss would certainly take a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament off the table, although Thursday night's loss at Virginia may have already done that.
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has taken on a bigger role since these teams last met and could provide an X-factor. Fellow Duke guard Quinn Cook is the key in this matchup.
The sophomore laid an egg in Duke's loss at Miami, shooting 1-of-12 from the floor. He looked outmatched on both ends of the court against Miami counterpart Shane Larkin.
The Blue Devils are usually a mentally tough bunch under the direction of Krzyzewski, but a pair of losses to Miami could linger into the postseason. Confidence is crucial for young players at this stage of the season.
But Duke has journeyed down this road many times before and the program has forged its reputation in the postseason. Regular season victories are considered a stepping stone on the way to a greater goal after decades of success and multiple national championships.
This is a checkpoint for Miami. A win Saturday would do wonders for the program in regard to respect and and how the team is viewed in the eyes of blue chip recruits (an underrated aspect of wins and losses at the college level).
The Hurricanes rise to prominence is among the season's most compelling storylines. A win over Duke could dare many to dream of a national championship run.
Miami has more to gain. How that translates on the court will set the tone Saturday.
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